A Poet’s Letters: The Correspondence of William Stafford

Since moving to Portland in 2008, I’ve always seen posters for events celebrating the life of William Stafford come December and January. I’ve always wondered who this man was- that he was a poet was all I knew. Then, during the Library Lovers Unite! Event, his son, Kim Stafford, gave a great speech in favor of libraries and quoted lines from the poem “Ask Me” which has resonated with me since then.

I was looking forward to this exhibit to get a better understanding of William Stafford- and it did not disappoint!

I attended the Opening Reception where John Wilsons Special Collections Librarian Jim Carmin, former curator of the William Stafford Archives at Lewis & Clark College Paul Merchant, and Kim Stafford spoke about the letters and the man himself.

Jim Carmin shared that the exhibit actually started off appropriately enough with a correspondence between him and the publisher of “Tuft by Puff,” the pages of which were made from the latter and the poet’s bathrobes! The exhibit was many years in the making and only a small fraction of the actual collection.

Paul Merchant’s excitement and respect for William Stafford was clearly evident. He shared a few letters that he thought were noteworthy. One was an exchange between William Stafford and fellow Pacific Northwest Poet Richard Hugo which really provided insight to the former’s character. Another was a sort of behind the scenes look at how artist Wang Hui-Ming translated one of Stafford’s poems. The display is of the colorful coyote and is hard to miss!

Kim Stafford told wonderful stories about his dad and how he was always encouraging to others, inviting everyone to the world of writing. He talked about the power of the written letter and urged everyone to write one because it will make that person’s day!

I apologize if I got information and names wrong. I couldn’t read my own notes! The exhibit runs until December 16.

What’s your favorite William Stafford poem?

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