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We Belong In History: Writing With William Stafford
Author: OPB
Posted: January 23, 2014

This article was originally published January 6 by OPB.

“We wanted a book that did what [William] Stafford did, which to us meant connecting poetry to everyone, especially students,” says Abbey Gaterud, publisher of Ooligan Press which is affiliated with Portland State University.

The centennial and legacy of Oregon’s former poet laureate will be honored throughout the year with various eventsand programs, and Ooligan Press decided to contribute by launching a hybrid project in September 2012: part writing contest, part celebration of Stafford.

Introduced by Oregon poet laureate Paulann Petersen, the book We Belong In History: Writing With William Stafford showcases a collection of Oregon’s middle and high-school students’ poetry which was inspired by Stafford’s work. The book also includes a selection of Stafford’s poems as well as lesson plans written by teachers.

“We worked with two local teachers to publish and disseminate lesson plans to other teachers, to be used as a starting point for their own classroom work …  Then we sent out the call: All teachers in Oregon, as well as any students who just wanted to write some poetry, were welcome to submit their work. And then we waited,” explains Gaterud.

Rosalyn Andronescu, an eighth grade teacher at Robert Gray Middle School, participated in the project.

“I thought that the project was a good one — although, at first, I thought it was a bit “high-ended” for my eighth grade students. Many of the topics to consider would be difficult for an eighth grader to relate to on the same level as an adult. Still, I was glad that I was able to use the project as a jumping point to inspire my students — many of whom are wonderful writers in their own right,” says Andronescu. 

Ooligan received more than 50 poetry submissions from six schools and a few individual student writers. The best poems were selected and published in the book.

“The book is divided into sections dealing with Family, Nature and Moments in Time,” explains Gaterud. “We selected the best poems that fit into those themes and that told a larger story.”

Middle school student Anushka Nair, who says William Stafford has been a role model for her, was excited to participate in the contest. Her two poems were selected to be part of the book.

“I wrote that poem to kind of celebrate my Oregonianness. It has a touch of William Stafford’s environmental love … ” says Nair.

 


 

I Am From Oregon by Anushka Nair

I am from Oregon
where the raindrops drip,
tending to trees my age.

I am from fir trees, no sun, and fun days.
I am from sitting under blossom trees,
Just for the feeling.

I am from the snowy days,
peaceful as a white blanket over mother life.
I am from nature, bookworms and old construction.

I am from pilgrims who brought apples.
I am from the leaders who lead revolutions without fear,
Today is another day I am alive.


 

According to Nair, Stafford’s work allowed her to see some of the smaller details of poems she had never noticed before. “I write more expressively,” explains Nair.

“He really is someone who has a great measure of belonging and loves the environment, [which] is something which I really like. To me, I play the violin, and his writing is kind of like a clear, crystal note that leads you up to another note, but he does not play it and leaves an air of mystery. That’s something I really enjoy,” adds Nair.

“Poetry is a wonderful venue to teach the most intricate details of expression while being concise …  William Stafford was a wonderful role model and I believe that this project is truly a tribute to this great author,” says Andronescu.

The lesson plans are available in the back of the book and also on the Ooligan Press’ website for teachers to use as many times and however they would like.

 

To learn more about We Belong in History, listen to the Think Out Loud interview with the project manager and several student writers.