Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford enthralled a Sisters audience last week.photo by Jerry Baldock
Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford enthralled a Sisters audience last week.photo by Jerry Baldock
When Oregon’s ninth Poet Laureate came to FivePine Conference Center, the evening felt like a classic variety show — performed by one man.

Kim Stafford kicked things off by singing a cappella, his voice stretching warmly across the room. To sing without accompaniment is a vulnerable and personal act, well-suited to a campfire or, in this case, hearthside performance.

The song instantly banished the hesitant feeling that sometimes haunts poetry readings. The crowd of about 75 people seemed eager to follow Stafford from song to poetry to uproarious tales of life in Sisters Country.

In the early 1970s, Stafford’s family built a cabin at the edge of Indian Ford Meadow. Much of his friendly, funny patter centered around local characters and adventures.

He described frequently hitchhiking over from Eugene. One time, he tried to walk from Indian Ford Meadow back into Sisters.

It was so cold outside he couldn’t make it into town. So he hightailed it back to the half-built cabin, which had recently acquired electricity.

There he warmed his hands and feet — on the cabin’s lightbulb.

Stafford shared some poetry written in recent years, including a sweet and lighthearted ode to his sister Kit, who was in attendance.

For the evening’s final moment of lyricism, Kim Stafford brought out an acoustic guitar, the plain truth and emotion of his song moving some in attendance to tears.

During a Q & A session, Stafford took questions from audience members. Here he spoke of how as a young man he strove to write “great” poems, the sort published by certain poetry journals.

In maturity, he’s more interested in writing “important” poems —honest, immediate works written for and about the people he meets on his journeys around Oregon as poet laureate. He cited prisoners at Umatilla County Correctional Facility as an example.

When asked whether the young students he works with are able to understand nature in poetry, he indicated that many of them are disconnected. He gave an example: when he visited a school in Salem, students read about pussy willows. The kids didn’t know what they were.

Pretending to pet a tiny, soft bud in his cupped hand, Stafford asked the audience, “Can you imagine growing up without ever having one?”

He made sure a bunch of pussy willows were delivered to the school after his visit.

Stafford is an associate professor at Lewis and Clark College in Portland and founder of its Northwest Writing Institute. He has authored numerous books of prose and poetry.

He also helped found Fishtrap, a well-known writers’ residency program and gathering in the Wallowas. Fishtrap brings literary and creative culture to Eastern Oregon and allows writers from elsewhere to experience the region’s distinctive landscape and culture.

Kim Stafford is also the literary executor for the estate of his father, the former United State’s Poet Laureate William Stafford. Kim has edited collections of his father’s work. During the reading, he shared several poems and stories about his dad.

Sue Stafford (no relation) hosted the event on behalf of the local historical society.

Titled “Confluence,” the event was presented by Three Sisters Historical Society, Sisters Art Association and the Friends of William Stafford.