Friday, November 20, 2009

A Story That Could Be True

Kim Stafford recently alerted us to the fact that William Stafford's poem "A Story That Could Be True" (from the book Stories That Could Be True, 1977) played a prominent role in the pilot episode of the television show "The Riches" (2007).

Monday, October 12, 2009

William Stafford and His First Publishers

The William Stafford Archives is pleased to announce the publication of: William Stafford and His First Publishers: The Making of West of Your City and Traveling through the Dark by Vincent Wixon and Paul Merchant. This essay is the first of an occasional William Stafford Studies series published by the Lewis & Clark College Special Collections. The essay can downloaded in PDF form at:
Hard copies can be requested by emailing Paul Merchant (

Friday, October 9, 2009

Every War Has Two Losers documentary

Be sure to visit the new website and watch the powerful trailer for the documentary film about William Stafford, Every War Has Two Losers directed by Haydn Reiss at

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Students and Other Researchers Welcome at the Archives

Students may like to be reminded that Watzek Library's Special Collections and the William Stafford Room in 336 on the library's third floor house a unique resource, the complete papers of William Stafford, state and national poet laureate, who taught at the college for thirty years from 1947. You are encouraged to come to the Heritage Room and the next door office (230) to view aspects of the collection, which includes all twenty thousand pages of the poet's daily journal, the documentary copies and publisher correspondence for his sixty or so published volumes, around a thousand prints from his twelve thousand photographs, some ninety broadsides of his poems, and almost one hundred CDs of his poem readings. Special Collections staff (Doug Erickson, Jeremy Skinner and Paul Merchant) will welcome individual vistors or small groups, and are always willing to help students' research for Historical Materials, and other course projects.

Carolyn Buan Remembers William Stafford

Lewis & Clark College alum Carolyn Buan, author and co-author of a number of books, including The First Oregonians, The Age of Abundance in an Age of Austerity, and Portland Then and Now, has sent us her reminiscences of William Stafford, illustrating (as others have done) the poet's willingness to provide beginning authors with material for their projects

When I was a junior at Lewis & Clark College in 1959-60, I had a lit class from William Stafford. Oddly enough, I don’t remember the name of that class. What I do remember is my frustration when this wonderful man and nationally famous poet began many sessions by apologizing for not being up to the task of teaching it. I used to think, How could you possibly believe you have to apologize for anything, much less your teaching abilities! I, like my classmates, was awestruck by him. How could he not be awestruck by himself?

Fast forward two years. By then I was at the University of Washington working towards my masters degree in English and taking a class in contemporary poetry from none other than Theodore Roethke. Our major assignment for his class: write a paper about a contemporary poet. Gathering up my courage, I wrote to Professor Stafford and asked if I had his permission to do a paper on him. The reply was vintage Stafford. “I can’t imagine why you would want to write about me” (or words to that effect). “However, I have some new, unpublished poems. Would you like to see them and use them for your paper?”

Unfortunately, in all my moves from one spot to another, I lost that paper. But I will never forget the honor of having William Stafford take such an interest in a former student and provide such wonderful material for my paper.

Years later, when I was associate director of the Oregon Council for the Humanities, I had other opportunities to meet with Professor Stafford. On one of those occasions, he shyly asked if I would like to see an interesting picture. It was a snapshot of a dewy young Bill Clinton, taken when he was a university student. I don’t recall if Bill took the picture and under what circumstances (I’m sure he explained it to me at the time). What I do recall is that he didn’t editorialize. Clinton was president at the time, and the photograph, which showed his famous grin and self-confidence, said it all.

Carolyn Buan

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Driving William Stafford

Richard Robbins has written an evocative account of being William Stafford's driver during the poet's visit to Mankato College, Minnesota in 1988. Read his blogs at the following URLs:

Monday, May 18, 2009

Barry M Clock Remembers William Stafford

Barry Clock recently sent us this delightfully self-deprecating and affectionate account of his experiences with William Stafford as a teacher:



I was a junior at L&C and had put off taking my English requirements for another year. I had my fill of Shakespeare and all those fellows back in high school and was dreading a follow-up course in college. In fact, I could see no good reason why it was even a requirement (and don't forget, I knew practically everything about everything ...I can't emphasize that enough). So I asked one of my friends at LC the all-important question about this prof named Stafford, "Is he easy?" He replied, "Well, ya, I didn't read more than 20 pages in that class and he passed me!" I'm thinking, just what the doctor ordered for spring time on Palatine Hill ..."English Lit for Dummies". I had just completed a course nicknamed "Rocks for Jocks" (Geology) the previous term, which ended up being difficult and one of the best classes I had ever taken in college. I was determined that wouldn't happen again.

So after all my hard work in "Rocks" and football and wrestling, I was due for a break with this Stafford guy, whom I had never even heard of before. So I walked into class in the basement of one of the Forest dorms on the first day. Perhaps 12 students and a teacher were sitting in a circle in a student desk (ya, I was late). Oh, oh, this doesn't look good,” I thought as I quickly looked around, "I'm going to have to say something in this class this term, with only a dozen other students and maybe even say what I think and why. And what's with that prof sitting there, like he actually cares? Plus he's looking like he is expecting to learn something from US as well?" This could be trouble. Oh well, at least he's easy.

William Stafford's soft-spoken words, thoughtful statements, unassuming attitude and easy-going ways swallowed me up from the first moment that class started. This "easy" guy had me hooked from the moment I cracked Shakespeare open that day and the discussion began, a timeless discussion that never ends, about good and evil and human nature. I loved it all, I had always read everything I could lay my hands on before this, but not LIKE THIS. I thought, "Hey, this guy's not too bad, he might make something of himself yet." A few weeks later, while eating dinner at Saga, I said just that (can you imagine anyone as stupid as I was?) and one of my friends looked at me and said, "Don't you know, ol' Stafford has a stack of awards that would make all of our sports awards look like nothin'?"

You know, in some ways I wish I had never heard that, because my respect for him jumped a mile higher. And it shouldn't have, because he was what he was, awards or not. But that too is human nature. I have two fond memories of Stafford (excuse my use of his name, to me that is a sign of familiarity and highest regard). One was the day when he had me read what I had written in front of the class followed by a discussion of it. He had ME read something to HIM that a joke or what? So, of course I couldn't wait to take a Western Lit class from him the next year. I remember willingly reading all of Dante's "Inferno", when I should have been playing cards and talking with my teammates, on the team bus crossing Eastern Oregon and Idaho in a snow storm ...thinking, "How did ol' Stafford know I'd be out here in this frozen waste land reading about a hell that is frozen?"

In closing, I went on to teach high school at Newport for nearly 30 years. Many of my methods were borrowed from William Stafford. I recall a poster was hung in the NHS library, one year, with his picture on it, about him being the National Poet Laureate or something. I told everyone who would listen, "That was my professor! Can you believe it?" They didn't understand.

Every year when fall rolls around again, invariably I think of his poem, "That Autumn Instant", the finest thing ever written about a season of a year, a season in life. And my last thought, after rereading it is, "What if I hadn't taken the 'easy' professor and I had taken a 'hard' professor instead?"

So I learned, sometimes in life, the "easy" way out is the best as well as the hardest.

Barry M Clock

L&C, class of '70


You stand on a hill in July

and wave: you feel summer stream over

the land, part of a river too wide

to cross, ever—still and mild.

You feel that river turn on its back

and stare at the sky.

You turn to dive again for your life

where it leads you, by breath and

anything next. The daylight endures;

it won’t pass; it follows the sun

around. But wherever you turn,

there on the grass and weeds

winter has brushed its hand.

William Stafford, from Smoke’s Way, Graywolf Press, 1983.

In response to a prompt from Kim Stafford, Barry sent these further thoughts:



This little essay began with an email when I said, "Kim, I could go on and on about your father's teaching methods, should you care to hear someday, (filtered through 30+ years)." You took me up on my offer to share some of my observations on your father and my professor at L&C, William Stafford.

In my mind, teaching was Stafford's greatest legacy, not poetry (but he wasn't too shabby at that either, ha). As far as I know he never got an award for teaching. In spite of what you hear sometimes in the media, teaching success is so difficult to measure. I taught high school for 30 years and I noticed that most awards connected with it are rather meaningless and often based on PR and garbage. It seems to me that the only teaching award that matters is the look in your student's eyes ...and in your eyes while you are teaching. It's kind of silly that it comes down to that, something so nebulous, in our "scientific, statistical" world. But it's the truest thing. If I were a principal, that's what I'd really be looking for when I was filling in the paperwork for a teacher's evaluation.

That was the thing, it was all in your father's eyes. That look at the start of class, a hint of a smile, a mischievous glance around the room, a thoughtful stare at the ceiling ...all gave me the feeling, "Do you want to do some thinking today? You guys want to kick around some words and ideas? Want to read some stuff and talk about it?" In short, Stafford's look was, "Hey, do you guys want to come out and play?"

That was one thing I took with me when I set off into the world of teaching. Education and teaching and learning are serious stuff, but NEVER take yourself too seriously. And there are two ways to go about it, the teacher's way or the student's way. The "student's way" is the best. A teacher is a student as well. I knew all that from watching Stafford in class, but of course I had to relearn it the hard way in front of high school students myself.

I don't want to sound sappy, but the feeling that Stafford gave us—that he really and truly cared about all things connected with us—amazed me. In fact it still does. I think I was able to communicate that to my students throughout the years also. My way was through a liberal dose of humor with all my students. His was a deeper thing, impossible to explain and convey.

Kim, if I have come across as disrespectful towards your father, by calling him by his last name in class and in this essay ...that is the opposite of my feelings for him and my intentions. I considered it a compliment of the highest order when all my students in class, and through out the years since, just called me "Clock". That was all I wanted. No Mr. or whatever. That's what your dad really taught me. Humility, caring, an understanding that was all-encompassing, a love of true learning and to be welcoming to all. Those are very difficult lessons to learn in life. And Stafford taught them all to me by example. Oh, and a little poetry and literature as well!

Barry M Clock

L&C Class of '70

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

William Stafford Teaching

In response to the current article in the Lewis & Clark Chronicle ("William Stafford Returns to Lewis & Clark"), William Sack writes a reminiscence of Stafford as a teacher, ending in a pleasantly rueful poet's comment: 

In 1954 I was a sophomore pre-med student. I took William Stafford's course, Intro. To English Literature because it was required to have some English. Little did I know how lucky I was! That course has stayed with me over the past fifty- five years. When Dr. Stafford read a poem, one was transported into another world. I've never heard anyone read a poem the way he could. (At the time  I didn't know he was a famous poet himself.) Anyway one day, after reading a sonnet of Shakespeare's, he sighed and said, "After Shakespeare everything else seems a bit shabby." 
Bill Sack, '56

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Another World Instead: William Stafford Peace Symposium (May 14-16)

The William Stafford Archives will be teaming with the Lamb Foundation to sponsor two literary events in the summer: a three-day peace symposium at the First Unitarian Church in downtown Portland, and a July project working with local teachers to create curriculum based on the work of William Stafford. The symposium ("Another World Instead") will present an evening of films, including the premiere of Haydn Reiss's new film "Every War Has Two Losers," an all-day Friday workshop led by Kim Stafford and Fred Marchant (editor of the edition of William Stafford's early poems, Another World Instead), followed by an evening poetry reading, and a Saturday series of papers by scholars of pacifist writing including Jeff Gundy, Philip Metres, Fred Marchant, Mary Szybist, and members of the Archives team.

Friday evening and all Saturday events are free and open to the public; the film showing (for which there will be a small admission fee) is at the Northwest Film Center.  For further information about the symposium in general, please visit the following website: 

For information on the all-day Friday class (for which credit is available) see: 

or contact Ashley Powers / / 503-768-6043.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Stanford English Professor reads Stafford Poem on NPR.

Can Poetry Save the Earth?: A Field Guide to Nature Poems Cover
John Felstiner was on NPR this morning to promote his new book, 'Can Poetry Save the Earth?'. He answers this question throught the voices of many poets, from William Carlos Williams to an eight year old boy named El'Jay Johnson. On the program he reads Stafford's, 'The Well Rising'.  It was read in response to the reporter asking him to pick just one poem that might save the Earth. Here is a link to the whole segment on NPR. Thanks to Kim Stafford and John Felstiner for alerting us to this segment.  Felstiner's Book can be found at:
- Doug Erickson 

John Felstiner

Monday, April 6, 2009

Don Emblen, Glen Coffield, and William Stafford by Kim Stafford

"How did you meet William Stafford?"

This past week, I had a chance to visit with a gentleman named Don Emblen, an old-time friend of William Stafford living in Santa Rosa, California. I asked Don how he had first met William Stafford, and he told the following story...

Don and his wife Betty were living in southern California after World War II, in a house Don had built, and one day they saw a notice in the public library for an unusual venture, the "Gruntdvig Folk School," run by Glen Coffield on the slopes of Mt. Hood in Oregon.

Don was a Navy man, and Glen had been a conscientious objector at Camp Angel on the Oregon coast, and had started Grundtvig as a place to change the world.

Don and his wife decided to take the plunge and join the cause. They rented out their house and headed for Oregon. When they arrived they were surprised to see that the house where Glen resided was an unfinished shack anchored to four huge firs that swayed in the wind, and it was cold, and there was no food. At this point, Betty realized she was pregnant, and Don announced to Glen that he was going to personally construct a room warm enough to keep his wife comfortable.

The rent money Don and Betty had brought from California was the only thing keeping Grundvit School alive, and Don felt he was entitled.

For some reason, this struck Glen, the ultimate idealist, as “soft,” and he refused to let comfort be part of the plan. Things started heating up, and eventually, Glen and Don decided they had to duke it out to settle matter. The Pacifist and the Navy man repaired to a clearing in the forest, raised their fists, looked into each other’s eyes—and burst out laughing.

Friends again, they decided to continue construction, which turned out to require scavenging from abandoned lumber camps nearby. One day they found a battered baby buggy in a camp dump, and used the flimsy chassis to drag salvaged boards up the mountain to the shack. Glen was thrilled with their success that day.

But the small party of idealists was starving. The rent money was gone, and Glen had no resources at all. Enter William Stafford, visiting his old friend Glen, and carrying a ham—a whole ham. Everyone feasted.

Don’s last memory of Glen was that the tall idealist had broken his leg, and was sitting in pain beside a sack of wheat in the remote shack, eating the kernels one by one.

Don assumed Glen had died there, until I told him no—Glen eventually headed south to the Bay Area, and ran a theater company, wrote symphonies, and continued to personally transform the world.

How many other stories of William Stafford’s life and times are waiting for us to ask a saint from those days, “How did you know this man?”

Kim Stafford

Monday, March 2, 2009

Lewis & Clark College's new William Stafford Room in the Watzek Library is now completed and in use. Its bookshelves (seen on left in a partial watercolor view by staffer Anneliese Dehner) house around two thousand items, among them the published collections of five Lewis & Clark professors: National Book Award Winner William Stafford, National Book Award Finalist Vern Rutsala, Oregon Poet Laureate Lawson Inada, Western States Book Award Winner Kim Stafford, and Witter Bynner Prizewinner Mary Szybist. They also house the books belonging to the college's Pacifist Collection (including the complete output of Waldport CPS camp's Untide Press and the camp's Illiterati magazine) and collections of four other Oregon small presses specializing in poetry: Jim Anderson's Breitenbush Books, Vi Gale's Prescott Street Press, Carlos Reyes's Trask House Books, and Erik Muller's Traprock Books. The collection focuses on Oregon writers, with substantial collections of the work of Hazel Hall, Katherine Dunn, Paulann Petersen and others.

The room's walls are graced with broadsides selected from around one hundred broadsides of poems by William Stafford and many of his contemporaries, including a large number of broadsides designed by Karla Elling at Arizona's Mummy Mountain Press. The room is in use as the center for continuing archival work on the William Stafford, Vern Rutsala, and Vi Gale Collections, as well as for small-group student/faculty poetry workshops. It may be viewed by appointment through this web site.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Welcome to the William Stafford Archives blog. This page will host your comments, questions, and reminiscences at the Archives, now housed at the Aubrey Watzek Library of Lewis & Clark College, Portland, Oregon. We plan to provide news updates about ongoing work with the collection at least once a week.

This blog is set up so that anyone can post a comment. Just click on the comments link, type your message, and select a profile. Unless you have a gmail account, we recommend that you select the Name/URL option. This allows you type in your name and provide an address for your own website if you like. Once you have selected your profile, please preview your comment and then post.

We look forward to hearing from you and sharing our work with William Stafford's papers.