The poet laureate of Oregon will visit Astoria during Earth Day.
Organizers hope people will see the words for the trees.
Kim Stafford will lead a renewed commitment to preserving the Northwest’s evergreen environment.
And, during two days of workshops, he will encourage writers to find their voice and investigate a sense of place — demonstrating that people write best when they write about what they know.
“In some native American cultures, if you want to be a shaman, you must bathe in every body of water in your home region,” Stafford said. “I think a writer should do that same thing. Know about the plants and birds, and have a sense of the seasons — then you step into the world knowledgeable about your place, and can be a good, active citizen.”
Stafford’s visit features multiple workshops for students Monday and Tuesday, April 22 and 23, as part of the “Forest Visions” project coordinated through Clatsop Community College. It is spearheaded by Roger Dorband, Dan McClure and Susan Banyas.
Dorband, a writer and photographer, is known for chronicling the Rogue River; McClure is a librarian and musician; and Banyas is a writer and choreographer.
A “Forest Visions” contemporary art exhibit is on display at the Royal Nebeker Art Gallery, 1799 Lexington Ave. through Thursday, May 9. It features images by Astoria photographer Robert Adams, art by painters Kim Osgood, Laura Ross-Paul, Michael Brophy and Rita Robillard and sculptor Lee Imonen.
It is supported by donations from foundations and the Clatsop County Cultural Coalition, which distributes money from the Oregon Cultural Trust. Its mission is to examine issues like forest management and climate change, plus regional and historical themes “grounded by art, science and storytelling.”
Banyas moved to Astoria from Portland four years ago. Her activism was ignited by the treatment of Native Americans protesting a pipeline at Standing Rock in North Dakota, and threats to water rights in the West.
“There is a groundswell about this, because it’s not just climate change,” she said. “It is global economics. It’s people wanting to reclaim their territory from the corporations that abuse the landscape and the people.”
She lamented divisive argument. “People put it as ‘Them vs. Us.’ The environmentalist vs. the logger ... It’s a big and broader story — we need to get that back, remember who we are as a people, and adopt a protectionist spirit.”
The environment has been a cornerstone of Stafford’s career. Now 69, he has taught at Lewis and Clark College in Portland since 1979. He helped found the Fishtrap Writers Gathering in the Wallowa Mountains and has led private workshops in Italy, Scotland and the landlocked Asian nation of Bhutan.
His father published 65 books and took his four children through stints in Oregon, Iowa, Indiana, California and Alaska. He was named poetry consultant to the Library of Congress in 1970, a position now known as the U.S. poet laureate, and served as Oregon’s chief poet from 1975 to 1990. He instilled in his son the habit of daily writing — even writing a verse the day he died.
Kim Stafford, appointed Oregon laureate last year, has more than a dozen books to his credit, including a reminiscence of his father. His first was a 1976 poetry collection called “A Gypsy’s History of the World” — just 100 copies printed on a letterpress he fixed.
His 313-page thesis on a 14th-Century English work, “The Pearl” earned him a doctorate from the University of Oregon in 1979, though his advisor reportedly labeled it “turgid prose.”
Stafford laughs when reminded of the critique. “Maybe poetry is my penance? It’s short, clean and clear!”
In 1992, after collecting material during an oral history project in Florence, he published “Wind on the Waves,” 52 stories celebrating life on the Oregon Coast, including a character who sets off from Astoria.
A critic called his account of his brother’s 1988 suicide, “100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do,” as a narrative where “the writer reaches back through the difficult end to grasp the beautiful beginning, like pulling a venomous serpent inside out.” It was named as one of The Oregonian’s top 10 Northwest books of 2012.
‘Sing in your own voice’
Marianne Monson leads the Writers Guild in Astoria whose members are helping with workshops. She labeled the Staffords “pillars of the Oregon literary tradition.”
“We’re thrilled to be able to offer this experience to young writers, as well as local authors who will have the opportunity to listen to Kim read his work and share insights on the craft,” she said.
In a 2011 interview with High Country News, the Western states’ environmental and cultural newspaper, Stafford offered a deeper glimpse into the therapy of writing. “Writing is a way to go beyond what you know in the direction of what you need.”
His website kim-stafford.com offers a plea to “listen eloquently” to seek common ground.
“If communication is the fundamental alternative to violence and injustice, what is the work of each voice among us?” it states.
He noted, “The problems of our time are political, ecological, economic — but the solutions are cultural.
“I focus on things that we do agree on, In Astoria, I want to save the forest, but I like loggers, too.”
He quotes far-left African-American philosopher Cornel West, whose recipe for social justice is, “the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people.”
Stafford urges students to find their voice — through place.
“It’s about being local about what you write,” he said. “Rather than parodying a literary voice, strengthen your own. Learn to sing in your own voice.
“It is part of authenticity. We have a vote and we have a voice. The vote is finite, the voice can grow and reach others.”
That approach dovetails with the Writers Guild, whose philosophy statement concludes: “We believe a literate community is a thriving community.”