kim stafford

Kim Stafford’s great energy swap

"We're back to where poetry has escaped the book. It’s not in the zoo of the library where it's looking out through the bars of its cage."

After a recent conversation with Kim Stafford, Oregon’s ninth poet laureate, an idea coalesced for me, that the great energy swap—the invisible exchange between sentient creatures that either fuels or depletes us—is really our most valuable currency. At least for me, this phenomenon has come more clearly into focus this past year when interactions have been fewer and somehow more deliberate.

I met Kim online via Zoom, and we enjoyed a serpentining conversation that covered his most recent book, QR Codes, the writing life, writing programs, editing and publishing, and the place of poetry in culture. Stafford is affable and authentic, even over a screen; his presence and amplitude filled the energy tank for days to follow. 

Singer Come from Afar – his most recent poetry collection, comprised of five sections and a masterful afterword – serves as a lighted pathway for weary travelers. A panoramic and compassionate inquiry into what it means to be human this exact second, the book is an account of a writer’s mighty vision and the execution of that vision, as offered by the poet himself. “Poetry is our native language,” Stafford told me. “It’s not some esoteric departure. Justified prose in books is a departure. To speak with pauses—that’s lines of poetry, where the pause is as important as the words. That’s how poetry works, and that’s how human interaction works. My mission is to restore poetry to its rightful place as our common language.”

Kim Stafford in his natural element Photo: Kendrick Moholt

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The soul of humanity and the fate of the planet are intertwined

Raising environmental awareness through music with Anima Mundi

Scene from 'A Time For Life.' Photo by Robert Kyr.
Scene from ‘A Time For Life.’ Photo by Robert Kyr.

An exciting array of artists is featured in the Ashland-based Anima Mundi Productions Heart of Humanity concert series this spring, including the choral ensemble Cappella Romana, Third Angle New Music, soprano Estelí Gomez, guitarist Colin Davin, and the HEX Vocal Ensemble. The series, now in its second season, began on April 18 with the world premiere of Robert Kyr’s new film, A Time For Life, an environmental oratorio performed by Cappella Romana and Third Angle New Music. The webcast of this beautiful choral work highlights Anima Mundi’s stated mission to bring audiences “… the power of the arts to stir the soul, foster community, and address urgent social and environmental problems.”

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The race is on. Ready for live events?

ArtsWatch Weekly: Ready or not, things are opening. Plus Lillian Pitt & Friends, opera breaks the mold, movie time, poetry all over

THE RACE IS ON, as George Jones famously crooned, and if it’s not pride up the backstretch and heartaches goin’ to the inside, as the song’s lyrics breathlessly declare, the stakes may be higher: Can we get the nation and world successfully vaccinated before relaxed safety standards and unchecked viral variants send us back to the starting gate? As warmer months approach, and vaccination rates improve, and people become more restless after more than a year in shutdown, the urge to get out and do things grows stronger – but is it jumping the gun? This week the state reclassified Multnomah and Clackamas counties, with a combined population of more than 1.2 million, from “moderate” to “high risk” for coronavirus. (Washington County, with a population of almost 600,000, maintained its “moderate” status.) The question is vital and controversial, and it goes beyond schools and workplaces and houses of worship and even a weekend at the coast. It has a deep and direct impact on cultural life, too.

Young blues phenom Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, from Clarksdale, Mississippi, had the crowd roaring at the 2019 Waterfront Blues Festival. The festival, a Portland July 4 Weekend tradition, was canceled in 2020 because of coronavirus restrictions but will return in July 2021 at the new Lot at Zidell Yards, south of its usual sprawling location on the downtown waterfront. This year’s acts have not yet been announced, and crowd size will be controlled. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Things are stirring. Restaurants have opened for indoor dining. Even theater, beyond the Covid-special videotaped virtual version, is taking tentative steps. Portland’s Triangle Productions has just gone into rehearsal for Joe DiPietro’s four-performer throwback comedy Clever Little Lies, with plans to open to a live audience on May 6, and it could be just the sort of nostalgic escapism that cooped-up audiences will be craving. Movie theaters are reopening (see Marc Mohan’s “Streamers” column, linked below). A consortium of Oregon large-event venues, meanwhile, has written Gov. Kate Brown pushing for guidelines and permission to reopen, arguing that they know how to control crowds and should be part of the decision-making process. The letter includes about fifty signees, ranging from the Pendleton Round-Up to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Sisters Folk Festival, and the Portland and Eugene symphonic orchestras.

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Photo Shoot: Six Oregon Poets

Photographer K.B. Dixon focuses on National Poetry Month with portraits of half a dozen leading Oregon writers


TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


April marks the 25th Anniversary of National Poetry Month, which was launched in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets. It has become one of the largest literary celebrations in the world.

The portraits here of Oregon poets are previously unpublished images from a series I did in 2019 that focused on Oregon writers in general—the unusually gifted people who make up this state’s diverse and dynamic literary culture.   

My hope back then was to call attention to the uniquely rewarding work of these talented people and, as always, to produce a good photograph. I have the same hope today. 

KIM STAFFORD

Oregon’s ninth Poet Laureate, 2018-20; founding director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College. His newest collection of poems, Singer Come From Afar, will be released April 27, 2021.

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LitWatch Monthly: It’s National Poetry Month

April marks National Poetry Month – along with eight of the most exciting ways for you to celebrate

A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.” Salman Rushdie

April marks National Poetry Month, a 30-day-long event created in 1996 by the American Academy of Poets to honor poetry writers across the country and spark an increased appreciation for poetry in the United States. This year marks the 25th anniversary of an event that has become one of the largest literary celebrations in the world. 

Poetry has been continually making its way into mainstream media and the world of television commercials and radio ads, particularly so after the spellbinding success of National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda S.C. Gorman’s internationally broadcasted poem recitation during President Joe Biden’s inauguration. It is important to remember that as poetry becomes increasingly popularized, its true preservation will come from our everyday actions. Just as the greatest poetry comes from the minds of ordinary people seeking to “shape the world, and stop it going to sleep,” the greatest advocacy for poetry comes not from commercial conglomerates, but from the dedicated patronage of individuals. 

We should remind ourselves that to keep our favorite bookshops open, we must each choose to purchase their books. To keep our independent presses publishing, we must subscribe to their publications. To keep our poets writing, we must endeavor to show our support for the work they do to further the literary world. 

In honor of National Poetry Month, I have created a list of eight great ways to celebrate, appreciate, and support Oregon poetry this April, in addition to a full calendar of literary events. Enjoy!

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Live theater’s back in town

ArtsWatch Weekly: In a pandemic era first, Triangle opens a show indoors. Plus: Art in the Pearl, Venice & elsewhere, virtually and "real."

“WE HAVE TO MOVE FORWARD,” Don Horn, who founded Portland’s Triangle Productions more than 30 years ago, said on the phone. “I would rather have the house used than vacant. I think spaces die if they’re not used.”

Somebody had to be first. And in Portland theater, when Triangle opens a 10-performance run of Rick Cleveland’s solo play My Buddy Bill next Thursday, Sept. 10, it’ll be the first time since Covid-19 restrictions shut down theater spaces almost half a year ago that anyone in the greater metro area’s put on a show inside an actual theater space, with a paying audience in the seats. (At least a couple of other companies in Oregon have done live shows, too: Medford’s Collaborative Theatre Projects has been doing indoor radio plays with paying audiences, and Ashland’s Oregon Cabaret Theatre has been doing The Odd Couple.)

Grocery stores, hardwares, and big box stores are open. Restaurants are open, for sidewalk and some indoor seating. Zoos and gardens and aquariums are open. Beaches and hiking trails and camping sites are open, at least many of them, and you can book rooms at motels and vacation getaways. A little bit of outdoor theater and concertizing’s happened. Museums and art galleries have reopened, with restrictions. But live theater, dance, and music have lagged behind, mostly because of strict limits on audience size and spacing inside performance halls, the cost of running shows for the resulting relatively tiny audiences, and the tougher logistics of making tight theater spaces safe enough to use.

Buddy and buddy in the Oval Office. Photo: Barbara Kinney/White House/1997

Triangle’s auditorium, inside The Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza on close-in Northeast Sandy Boulevard, ordinarily seats 154 people. Because of a state restriction of 25 people in such a space at a time, the audience for My Buddy Bill will be limited to 23, leaving room for one actor (Joe Healy, playing Rick, the playwright) and one tech person. The bigger the cast and crew, the smaller the allowable audience. In the meantime, Horn and crew are busily getting everything ready so the space can meet multiple safety requirements. “I’ll be spending Friday cleaning everything out of the lobby so we can shampoo,” he said. 

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Talking back to the darkness

In difficult times, two workshop instructors say, writing can illuminate corners of the mind and restore a sense of possibility

In these difficult days, most everyone is looking for a way to cope, to find peace, to make sense of things. For some, it’s taking a walk, paddling a kayak, or learning a new skill. And for some, it’s writing. In the near future, Nancy Linnon and Kim Stafford will be leading writing workshops at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. I talked with them about writing your way out of darkness and how to defeat the demons that hold people back.

Linnon’s online workshop, “Changing in Place,” runs this weekend, Sept. 5 and 6. A writer for nearly all her life, Linnon has long had a practice, especially during tough times, of writing daily. But when the pandemic struck, she’d let that practice lag.

“I wasn’t giving it the attention it needed, given how chaotic and painful things were,” said Linnon, a writing instructor of 25 years. “My yoga teacher immediately went online daily, so I was doing my yoga practice daily. I was like, ‘I can do yoga every day, but I can’t write every day, when writing has been my practice?’ There was a lot to digest. Things were starting to pile up internally. I brought that practice back into my life. Nothing sees me through like writing.”

Nancy Linnon will teach a writing workshop at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology.
Nancy Linnon advises writers, “Before you sit down, tell yourself you are free to write the worst junk in the world.” She will lead a virtual writing workshop this weekend at the Sitka Center.

Linnon thinks of writing as a tool, not just to express what is there, but to discover what you didn’t know was there. It’s a sort of flashlight moving around inside, illuminating corners, she said. For her, one corner was a troubling connection with a family member who lost her mother when she was barely more than a toddler.

“My oldest sister’s mother died in the polio epidemic” of the mid-20th century, Linnon said. “I’m in the middle of this pandemic and not drawing the connection that an epidemic like polio had touched my father’s life. It was in the writing that I had that ‘A-ha.’ Probably if I had talked to my sister, it would have come up. Instead it came up in the writing, keeping me present in myself in a way nothing else really does.”

For those new to writing or intimidated by it, Linnon likes to draw on the teachings of author Natalie Goldberg. While some may insist writing is as simple as sitting down and picking up the pen, Linnon acknowledges it’s not always that easy. One important tip is to keep your hand moving.

“The other thing is, before you sit down, tell yourself you are free to write the worst junk in the world,” Linnon said. “All these voices in your head come and say, ‘You’re not describing it right.’ This isn’t the place for that. Don’t cross out, don’t think, don’t get logical, don’t worry about punctuation or spelling. When the critical voices come in, either put what they are saying on the page, or notice them and try to write through them. Go where your mind takes you. Another thing Natalie Goldberg says is, ‘Go for the jugular.’ It doesn’t matter what you start writing about, it’s the flashlight thing again.”

Stafford’s online workshop, “Pandemic Diary for the Earth” is set for Oct. 10 and 11. Like so many in these challenging times, Stafford said he finds himself starting the day with a sense of being surrounded by dire news.

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