Kim Stafford on Poetry
In Conversation with Naomi Shihab Nye on The Quarantine Tapes
Hosted by Paul Holdengräber, The Quarantine Tapes chronicles shifting paradigms in the age of social distancing. Each day, Paul calls a guest for a brief discussion about how they are experiencing the global pandemic.
Poet Kim Stafford joins guest host Naomi Shihab Nye on Episode 141 of The Quarantine Tapes. The former Poet Laureate of Oregon, Kim offers beautiful reflections on the meaning of poetry today. He talks about what it means to make poetry that addresses this moment and why he has shifted to sending poems out immediately. Naomi asks Kim about his writing practice. He compares writing to alchemy, describing the refuge that writing creates inside your own, and expresses his hope that more people will find the power of writing. Then, they talk about what it means to be a good citizen and how poetry fits into politics and community.
From the episode:
Naomi Shihab Nye: What would you say to someone who says, oh, yes, I spend my ritual time with my page, I write things down, but I can’t share anything. I’m just not good enough.
Kim Stafford: Well, I have a cruel response—that’s very narcissistic. That’s very selfish. You know, what has come to you is your contribution to what we all need. The potluck will be richer if every dish is there. And not only the triple-star gourmet dishes. We need bread from everyone. You don’t share to show off or to prove anything or to compare; you share because what has come through you is available nowhere else. We need it. Don’t deprive us.
NSN: Well, you’re the one that taught me, and I’m sure many others, about how you could take an honorary title like poet laureate and think of it simply in terms of service. It’s giving you an opportunity to be of service to others, but also to the language that you trust in. Thank you for having that attitude, Kim, because it really helps to have that way of looking.
KS: Yeah, my predecessor, Elizabeth Woody, who was the poet laureate before me in Oregon, she said in her last reading as poet laureate, “The more I do poetry, the less it’s about what the poem is and the more about who the poem serves.” That really became my motto as poet laureate—who the poem serves. How could this help?
NSN: I heard Elizabeth Woody so many years ago in the woods in Oregon urge an audience to write down three lines minimum every day. And I remember her conviction about those three lines. If you wrote three lines every day, you’d have 90 at the end of a month, and just think, some days you might want to write six or twelve. And where could that take you? The abundance of possibility—how great.
To listen to the episode, as well as the whole archive of The Quarantine Tapes, subscribe and listen on iTunes or wherever else you find your favorite podcasts.
Kim Stafford is a writer in Oregon who teaches and travels to raise the human spirit. He founded the Northwest Writing Institute in 1986, and co-founded the Fishtrap Writers Gathering in 1987. He is the author of a dozen books of poetry a prose, including Having Everything Right: Essays of Place, and Wild Honey, Tough Salt. In 2018, Gov. Kate Brown named him Oregon’s ninth poet laureate, and he visited over a hundred groups statewide to share the reading and writing of poetry. He has taught writing in dozens of schools and colleges, and in Scotland, Italy, Mexico, and Bhutan.
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