Oregon poet laureate

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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$1.1 million for poets laureate

ArtsWatch Weekly: Oregon Laureate Anis Mojgani has projects for the money. Plus: Classical gets up close, theater busts out all over, Mosaic, egg art, more.

IT’S NOT EVERY DAY THAT ARTSWATCH GETS TO ANNOUNCE MORE THAN A MILLION DOLLARS GOING TO THE POETS OF AMERICA. Today is one of those days. On Thursday morning the Academy of American Poets announced awards of $1.1 million for the 2021 Poet Laureate Fellowships, “given to honor poets of literary merit appointed to serve in civic positions and to enable them to undertake meaningful, impactful, and innovative projects that engage their fellow residents, including youth, with poetry, helping to address issues important to their communities.” Funding comes from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. That breaks down to $50,000 each for 23 state or city poets laureate in the United States ($25,000 each for the two poets who share Montana’s laureate position). And Anis Mojgani, Oregon’s poet laureate, is among the award winners.

Oregon Poet Laureate Anis Mojgani: $50,000 for projects around the state. Photo: Tristan Paiige

If large sums of money and the quiet pursuit of poetry seem somehow incompatible, consider the words of Dolly Levi, as she famously declares in Hello, Dolly!, the Broadway-musical adaptatation of Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker: “Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.”

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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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Living in a world of upside down

ArtsWatch Weekly: The pandemic is the puzzle. Adaptability is the key. Unlocking the cultural world's path to the future is the challenge.

SUDDENLY EVERYTHING’S TOPSY TURVY, and it’s seeming more and more like a mistake to think that things are going to get back to “normal” even after the health threat has ended, whenever that might happen. In the cultural world, the economic effect of the coronavirus shutdown is going to be hard on everyone and catastrophic for some. And by “everyone” I mean not just arts groups themselves but also the artists and staffers who’ve made their livings working for them, and the funders who keep them going, and the audiences who may understandably be reluctant to flock back to theaters and concert halls and museums as if social distancing were just some crazy blip that’s done and gone. Some groups, even if they do everything “right,” aren’t going to survive.
 
Barry Johnson, ArtsWatch’s executive editor, has started writing a column he calls “Starting Over,” which is about exactly those issues. How do we start over? How do we reinvent? What do we return to, and what do we move beyond? In his most recent “Starting Over,” Masks and democracy, he talks about some of the political failures that have made things worse in the United States than they needed to be, and reports on his conversation with the veteran arts consultant George Thorn, who suggests that the sort of creative, step-by-step problem-solving artists engage in every day might be a model for the society as a whole. In an earlier column, Point to point, Johnson talked with Portland Center Stage at the Armory’s Cynthia Fuhrman about practical adaptability. 

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Friderike Heuer, “The Strikers,” montage, from her series “Fluchtgedanken,” 2020. In her visual essay “Fluchtgedanken: Thoughts of Escape,” Heuer writes about manipulating images of paintings by the mid-20th century painter George Tooker, and how her adaptation of his work is a response to such disturbing issues of the Covid-19 crisis as the return of eugenics to public discussion and practice: “Took us what, only 75 years to get around to it again? What are expendable lives? The old? The diseased? The incarcerated? The poor?”

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ADAPTABILITY IS GOING TO BE CRUCIAL, and in a lot of cases, also not sufficient. Because the situation will be different for everyone, which means that while there may be smart overall strategies, they’ll have to be adapted to specific situations. And the ground keeps shifting.

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Kim Stafford: To be welcome in the house of writing

Oregon's poet laureate and "roving listener" will speak in Newport about poems and the mysteries related to writing

Poet and essayist Kim Stafford is nine months into his two-year appointment as Oregon’s poet laureate. In that time, Stafford has made appearances in big and small towns around the state, with plans to visit many more in the coming months. On Sunday, he’ll be the guest speaker at the meeting of Willamette Writers’ Coast Chapter in Newport.

Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford at Eagle Creek. Photo courtesy: Oregon Humanities

Stafford said his Feb. 17 talk is inspired by a quote from Oregon poet Gary Miranda, who said, “People who don’t read or write may be spared the inconvenience of thought.”

Stafford plans to dive into that inconvenience by sharing poems, questions, stories, and mysteries related to the practice of writing. We asked him to talk about his experience as poet laureate so far.

What have you learned in your first few months as Poet Laureate?

Kim Stafford: I cherish my conversations with writers, teachers, readers, parents, veterans, inmates, people in the halls of power, and people on the street. In these conversations, I’ve learned that clear, evocative, inspiring language is treasured by people in all walks of life. This may be poetry on a page, a story someone tells, a letter someone has kept, or some other form of language doing all the work it can to connect one person to another, one generation to another. As I’ve said in many places:

Poetry is our native language. Everyone is welcome in the house of writing, and festive explorations on the page make communities more democratically inclusive, emotionally informed, and ready to face the challenges of these mysterious times.

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People & Conversations 2018

2018 in Review, Part 3: ArtsWatch goes behind the scenes for conversations with 22 creators who talk about their lives and art

By Sarah Kremen-Hicks

Theaters have their curtains. Paintings have their frames. Books have their covers. The act of presentation, of framing, of giving things edges, shifts the subject to the work itself and hides the artist away, if only a little bit. ArtsWatch’s writers have spent the past year seeking out the artists behind the frames and bringing them to you. Here are 22 glimpses behind the curtain from 2018.

 


 

Michael Brophy in his North Portland studio, 2017. Photo: Paul Sutinen

A conversation with Michael Brophy

Jan. 3: Prominent Northwest painter Michael Brophy talks with Paul Sutinen in an interview that begins with being “the kid that drew” and becomes a meditation on medium and viewership:

Where did that lightbulb come on for you to say, ‘OK, I saw all that stuff in London and now I want to go to art school.’

I knew the minute I saw paintings, like in the National Gallery. The scale of things—my mind was blown by the size of things. An artist I don’t think about much, Francis Bacon, there was a room of Bacon’s paintings [at the Tate Gallery] and it terrified me. I didn’t know that art could do that. I had to leave the room. I had a kind of like a panic attack.

I think they call it ‘epiphany.’

Yeah, so after that I just knew what I was going to do. Just as simple as that.

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