May 25, 2018KR BlogBlogLiteraturePoetry

On Kim Stafford

There are a few poets one might think of as having gone into the family business—or rather, into the vocation of a familial precursor. Franz Wright, the son of James, comes to mind. Out here in the Pacific Northwest, we have Kim Stafford, whose father, William, taught at Lewis & Clark College for many years. Kim has just been named the ninth Poet Laureate of Oregon, a position for which he is well suited. Like his father, Kim is dedicated to a poetry integrated with a commitment to bettering the grand poem that is the world. We can honor such a commitment with both the largest and the smallest of gestures. In this we are like the chestnut tree in his poem “In the Night, after Rain”: “We, too, release our beauties / one by one: a kind word, / a look, a knowing silence.” Or as he reminds us in “Some Things I Love,” “kind words / need harm no one / to witness for us all.” The poems in Stafford’s recent book In Praise of Disarray (Little Infinities 2018), from which those quoted above come, witness to both the large and the small, the often unnoticed beauties and needs of the world.
The book’s final poem, “Cleaning the Cabin,” offers a kind of guide for living. Clean up after yourself, the poem says, and then get out of the way, for the “next resident comes for emptiness, / silence, no sign of you.” It isn’t that we do not, or even that we should not, leave a mark on the world, but rather that often the best remnant is not so much an overt sign as a subtle alteration emerging from mindful existence. The poem ends,
The next resident may find
stones among the drift there,
strangely polished by turning
in your hands—washed
by water, lit by frost,
where you have walked on.
Walking through the world with centered energy, we may indeed leave some part of it “strangely polished” and therefore more welcoming for the next visitors to make their way through. As the founding director of the Northwest Writing Institute in the Graduate School at Lewis & Clark, where he has taught writing since 1979, as the author of many books of poetry and prose, and as an alert citizen of the earth, Kim Stafford is helping us leave the world subtly better, and better in its subtleties, than we found it.