Wednesday, August 26, 2009

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 “However, I have some new, unpublished poems.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

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