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Among birthdays, this is one to remember and celebrate

January 16, 2014

By Kyle Jansson

Poet William Stafford.

Poet William Stafford.

Some days, in the tidal rush of current events, we will forget birthdays for the important people in our lives. For Oregonians and millions of other people around the world, there is one important birthday this month not to overlook.  It’s the centennial on January 17 of the birth of poet William Stafford.

The Oregon Heritage Commission has designated 2014 as a Statewide Celebration of Stafford’s birth, only the seventh celebration the commission has declared. And, oh, what a party it will be, with dozens of events taking place around the state to celebrate the man, his thoughts, and the thousands of poems he wrote.

Stafford’s poetry is alive, even though he died 20 years ago. New books of his work are being published this year. New generations are being introduced to the words and thoughts of one of the most prolific and admired American writers of the 20th century.

His short bio: Born in Kansas, a pacifist and a conscientious objector, Stafford moved to Oregon in 1948 and taught for more than 30 years at Lewis and Clark College, which houses his archive. He won many prestigious literary awards, including the National Book Award and in 1970 served in a position now called the US Poet Laureate.

His personal impact: Meetings I attend don’t have poetry on the agenda. However, several times people have been so moved by one of Stafford’s poems that they share it with everyone. My favorite Stafford poem: “The Dream of Now.”

So overlook that tidal wave of “musts” and meetings for a few moments. Attend one of the many Stafford events this year. They will be taking place everywhere in Oregon as part of the Oregon Reads program in more than 100 libraries. Even if you think you’ve read everything he’s written, find new inspiration by reading one of the new books or re-reading a favorite one from the past.

Find yourself in a tidal rush of thoughts and feelings from Stafford poetry.

Kyle Jansson is the coordinator for the Oregon Heritage Commission.

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