William Stafford, who taught at Lewis & Clark College for many years, was named the Poet Laureate of Oregon in 1975. Among his many credentials, Stafford served as a consultant in poetry at the Library of Congress, and received the National Book Award for his poetry collection Traveling through the Dark (1963). During his lifetime, Stafford wrote over sixty books of poetry that still resonate with both scholars and general readers. His peaceful, reflective poems about the earth and human life have been a source of insight and beauty for more readers than we may ever know. As the poet Robert Bly said when William Stafford died in 1993, “Bill’s poems will be more widely read in the next century than in this one.” With the upcoming celebration of his centennial birthday, Ooligan Press wanted to draw on William Stafford’s legacy to help student writers in Oregon.
We kicked off the competition in September 2012. We contacted local teachers and offered them lesson plans based on Stafford’s poems to help inspire high school students to create their own essays and poems. We collected submissions throughout the year, compiling the best work during the summer of 2013, and are publishing the students’ work by January 2014, coinciding with the yearlong celebration of Stafford’s birth. The students will get the chance to see their very own work in print, their teachers will have fun seeing them get inspired, and the graduate students at Ooligan Press will be awarded the task of compiling the students’ never-before-seen poems and essays into a book. The competition was a great way to celebrate Stafford, who considered reading and teaching to be essential parts of human life.
Photo of William Stafford used by permission of the Estate of William Stafford.