Last night, nobody came to our Happy Birthday William Stafford poetry reading and that was fine with us. We three women watched the clock tick past 7, realized we were the only people coming, kicked off our shoes and gathered around the boom box to listen to a CD of the former Oregon poet laureate at his last public reading before he died in 1993.
Host Marianne Klekacz, who had optimistically set about 30 chairs in a circle in the Newport Library meeting room, couldn’t understand why all those folks who had said they’d be there weren’t. Their loss. Marianne, Dorothy Mack and I, co-coordinators of the Oregon Coast Branch of Willamette Writers, munched cookies and listened to this down-to-earth poet read and talk about his work as if he were right there in the room. His voice and style reminded me of Woody Guthrie.
Most Oregon poets are crazy about Stafford, whom I had never heard of before I moved here from California. He was American Poet Laureate in 1970 and Oregon Poet Laureate from 1975 to 1993. He published 67 books, including Traveling through Dark, which won the National Book Award, and Stories That Could Be True: New & Collected Poems. For all the Stafford facts, visit the Friends of William Stafford site.
What impresses me most about Stafford is his work ethic. He got up before dawn to write a poem every day, including the day he died. Considering he lived almost 80 years, that’s a lot of poetry.
Last year we had a big crowd at the Stafford reading, including people who had known him in life. This year, we were competing with a big literary event in Lincoln City, plus the inauguration of President Barack Obama. So we sipped our tea and ate our cookies and listened to Stafford. Weary of the hard blue chairs and tired of staring at the “state flowers” quilt on the wall, I slipped to the floor and did some yoga stretches on the turquoise carpet, keeping my body busy while my brain followed the poet’s words. I have a feeling he would have approved, saying, “Go ahead. Make yourself comfortable.” It was a well-spent evening.
Our Willamette Writers chapter usually meets on the first Tuesday of the Month. On Feb. 3, we will welcome Samantha Ducloux Waltz, who has written essays for many magazines, newspapers and anthologies, including A Cup of Comfort for Families Touched by Alzheimer’s, which has one of my stories, too. She’s going to share how to write and sell personal essays. The program is at the Newport Library, 7 p.m., free as always. Snacks will be provided, but no ghosts.