William Stafford wrote in his poem, “For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid”:
“There is a country to cross you will
find in the corner of your eye, in
the quick slip of your foot--air far
down, a snap that might have caught.
And maybe for you, for me, a high, passing
voice that finds its way by being
afraid. That country is there, for us,
carried as it is crossed. What you fear
will not go away: it will take you into
yourself and bless you and keep you.
That’s the world, and we all live there.”
Stafford moved to the Northwest in the late ’40s where he taught at Oregon’s Lewis and Clark College. Although originally from the Midwest, the poet made a home on the western side of the country. It is where he published more than 65 volumes of poetry and was named Poet Laureate in 1970, a title shared by poets such as Robert Frost and Conrad Aiken. But as his poetic fame suggests, Stafford’s “young friends” stretch across the U.S.
Next week, cities from Oregon and Washington to Texas, Ohio and New York will be celebrating the late poet’s 99th birthday. Included in this long list will be the 11th annual celebration hosted by the Bainbridge Island Public Library and Friends of William Stafford, a national organization that is committed to raising awareness of the power of poetry and literature.
Poet and author David Hecker will be moderating the event. Last spring, Hecker visited Stafford’s birthplace in Hutchinson, Kansas where he came across a mural that reaches about four-stories high in commemoration of the poet.
After this visit, Hecker was asked by the original organizer of the Island event to take over the keynote presentation with photos of Hutchinson and the mural.
Hecker first became acquainted with the poet as a faculty member at Olympic College where he co-founded and organized the Olympic College Writers Conference. In its first year, Hecker brought Stafford in as the keynote speaker.
Following Hecker’s presentation will be a panel of Bainbridge Island poets John Davis and Nancy Rekow; and Port Townsend poets Peter Quinn and Gayle Kaune, all of whom were touched by Stafford in similar ways as Hecker, either participating in various workshops, conferences or at Lewis and Clark College.
“They will share how William Stafford encouraged them to write poetry,” Hecker said, “and how he influenced their poetry.”
Concluding the event, audience members are encouraged to contribute in a poetry reading.
The free event will take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14 in the library’s conference room.