Stafford, Oregon's most famous poet and one of America's most important 20th-century poets, was born on January 17th, 1914. He left Oregon to teach at San Jose State University in the 1956-1957 academic year. He made many friends in the San Jose area, including the County’s first Poet Laureate, Nils Peterson, who remembers him fondly, especially at seminars with Robert Bly.
A native of Kansas, Stafford was a conscientious objector in WWII (who served 5 years in an American prison camp, where he developed his life-long habit of arising long before dawn to write a poem every day), a teacher of literature and poetry at William and Mary College in Oregon, married and father of four, who, if his daily poem didn't work out as planned, famously said, "I lower my expectations." His students adored him, especially when he advised them not to be afraid to write bad poems.
His birthday is being celebrated in over sixty readings around the country and was feted last night in a reading a lively video viewing and reading at Florey’s in Pacifica organized by Sherri Rose-Walker .
I’m including two of his poems. The first is one of my favorites as it brings me right back to first grade, a long stretch.
In the play Amy didn't want to be
anybody; so she managed the curtain.
Sharon wanted to be Amy. But Sam
wouldn't let anybody be anybody else
he said it was wrong. "All right," Steve said,
"I'll be me but I don't like it."
So Amy was Amy, and we didn't have the play.
And Sharon cried.
They tell how it was, and how time
came along, and how it happened
again and again. They tell
the slant life takes when it turns
and slashes your face as a friend.
Any wound is real. In church
a woman lets the sun find
her cheek, and we see the lesson:
there are years in that book; there are sorrows
a choir can’t reach when they sing.
Rows of children lift their faces of promise,
places where the scars will be.
Causes Kevin Arnold Supports
Poetry Center San Jose, East Palo Alto Police Activities League (EPA PAL), Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Yale Writing Conference, Gold Rush Writers