finding William Stafford
January 17, 2016
Born in Hutchinson, Kansas, on January 17, 1914, William Stafford lived in Oregon for much of his life and is widely celebrated with readings on and around the anniversary of his birth. In addition to his 67 books and extensively read and published poems, Stafford’s words mark a route through Cascadia.
In 1992, when the Forest Service approached Stafford to write ‘poetry road signs’ that would be placed at waysides on the North Cascades National Scenic Highway, he agreed. Of the 17 poems he completed for the commission, seven were selected and put into place in 1994. Through the years since, the porcelain plaques have been repaired, replaced and even relocated. In 2004, The Academy of American Poets included the Stafford poems among the 31 sites designated as National Poetry Landmarks. (Note: while the official list only contains 30 of the 31 sites, not including the Methow poems, the designation is mentioned in a Seattle PI article from the time and one imagines the Stafford poems are the 31st site.)
You can read the poems in the November 28, 1994, edition of High Country News (they are included in the book Even In Quiet Places) or, when the snow melts, you can go in search of them yourself. The locations are listed here. The 2009 map below, from the Friends of William Stafford, shows the location of five of the plaques and all seven poems appear on a Methow Valley Public Art Map. For further reflections, read the article by Janet and Edward Granger-Happ on their experience searching out the signs just four years after they were put in place.