On February 12, We Belong in History: Writing with William Staffordwas honored with a reading at Broadway Books. Every seat in the house was full and, after a brief introduction by Michael Berliner, Kim Stafford entertained all in attendance with a story about his father’s attempt at writing an autobiography. It seems that Stafford discovered, forty-five pages into his manuscript, that everything of significance in his life had taken place before the age of fifteen—an insight that Kim easily related to our young friends and poets in the audience that evening. After that, Emily Kendal Frey shared a few of her favorite Stafford poems, reading in a careful, confident tone, and peppering each piece with commentary on how it related to her own understanding of the world.
Emily’s turn at the podium was followed by student readings of their own work. First, Anushka read three thought-provoking and moving pieces: “The Power of a Poem,” “I am from Oregon,” and “Someone Walks by Rocky Waters.” The second and third readers, Iris and Corey, were both a little shy about sharing, but once they were won over by our applause, we were rewarded with two very powerful poems: “My Momma and I,” and “Can You Hear the Beat,” respectively. Kim Stafford followed these readings with the story of a young poet friend who signed up for lessons in self-defense, only to be told that, as a poet, he had already attained the highest level of defense—the ability to make people stop and think. The ever-affable Berliner ended the event with his insightful thoughts on how poetry moves us, and how it is our duty as lovers of poetry to instill its importance in future generations.
I can’t help but think that any of us who didn’t enter that reading with black belts in poetry must have certainly left with our belts a shade or two darker.