William Stafford: His Writing, His Life

Lucky Rogue Valley poetry lovers, award-winning Ashland poets Patty and Vince Wixon present “William Stafford: His Writing, His Life” on Wednesday, December 17, from 12:00- 1:30 p.m., at the Medford Branch Library, 205 South Central Avenue. The event is part of the statewide program Oregon Reads.

The Wixons are fabulous speakers, and they will discuss the man they knew and his work, including a new book on Stafford aphorisms that Vince Wixon edited. They will also speak about their work in the William Stafford Archives.

Vince Wixon co-produced two documentaries on William Stafford and his poetry, “What the River Says” and “The Life of the Poem.” Highlights from these documentaries related to Stafford poems, his writing process and philosophy, and his influence on other poets and teachers will be shown.

Stafford is Oregon’s most famous poet and considered one of the most important American poets of the late 20th century. Winner of numerous awards and honors, he served as Oregon’s poet laureate for 16 years. His first major collection of poetry, “Traveling Through the Dark,” was published when he was 48 years old and won a National Book Award. Stafford’s appeal has endured in part because of the timelessness of his poetry. His deceptively simple language articulates our human connections and speaks to people of all ages.

After Stafford’s death in 1993, the Wixons helped assemble the Stafford archive of journals, poetry manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, and recordings. Patty Wixon was the first president of Friends of William Stafford and produced ninety-seven CDs of audio recordings of Stafford’s readings, talks, and interviews over five decades. Vince Wixon edited, with former Director of the Stafford Archive Paul Merchant, four posthumous Stafford books, including the just-released Sound of the Ax: Aphorisms and Poems. The Wixons recently were awarded the Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award at the the Oregon Book Awards for their contributions to the literary life of Oregon.

This program is proudly presented by the Friends of the Medford Branch Library and the Rogue Valley Chapter of the Oregon Poetry Association (OPA). For more information please call 541 774-8679 or visit www.jcls.org.

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Poetry for birders, birds for poets

“Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems about Birds” edited by Billy Collins, is a gorgeous volume of poetry and art that makes a perfect gift for poets and bird nerds.

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Collins, and famed nature illustrator David Allen Sibley of the “Sibley Bird Guides,”  teamed up to create a collection of poems and paintings that celebrate poetry and the birds that inspire it.

The book pairs both classic and modern poems with beautifully detailed illustrations. Emily Dickinson and a Robin; Marianne Moore and a Frigate Pelican; Sylvia Plath and the Pheasant; Walt Whitman and an Eagle; Billy Collins and a Sparrow. While the anthology doesn’t offer many surprises, or ethnically or culturally diverse poets, the book is a real pleasure.

A birder friend pointed out that if one knows birds, it is easy to find a poem whose title you can’t remember because the book is arranged in taxonomic order. It starts with loons and seabirds and ends with finches.

If like me, you don’t know an American robin from an eastern towhee, the book is quite an inspiration to pay more attention to birds in my neighborhood, to learn more and maybe find a new favorite poem. or two.




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Oregon Poetry Association’s fall contest winners

Big kudos to the Oregon Poetry Association’s fall contest winners and to the fabulous judges that made it all possible. The OPA contest showcases this states’ fabulous poets and gives newbies a chance to strut their stuff. In addition to cash prizes, winners will be published in “Verseweavers,” OPA’s annual anthology.
Winners are listed below.

Poet’s Choice
Judge: Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua
1st place: “Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” by Sandra Rokoff-Lizut, Corvallis
2nd place: “Over Breakfast and the News I Wonder” by Hannah Thomassen, Cottage Grove
3rd place: “Whom Shall We Blame” by Susan Clayton-Goldner, Grants Pass

Members Only
Judge: Penelope Scambly Schott
1st place: “The Language Vest” by Sue Parman, Hillsboro
2nd place: “Good Morning” by Pamela Wilson, Corvallis
3rd place: “Spanish Lace” by Linda Ferguson, Portland

Dueling Judges
Judge: Andrea Hollander
1st place: “Call It Water, Call It Rain” by Jeanne Morel, Seattle, Washington
2nd Place: “Zoology 401” by Hannah Thomassen, Cottage Grove
3rd Place: “Streamline” by Dan Kaufman, Central Point

Dueling Judges
Judge: Elyse Fenton
1st place: “Sweeping: Three Scenes” by Sandra (Ellston) Mason, Seal Rock
2nd Place: “Evidence, Occurrence” by Nancy Flynn, Portland
3rd Place: “Navigation” by Toni Hanner, Eugene

Traditional Form-Litany
Judge: Sandra (Ellston) Mason
1st Place: “Codicil for Grief” by Keli Osborn, Eugene
2nd Place: “Between” by Liz Robinson, Phoenix
3rd Place: “Even Presuming” by Christopher M. Wicks, Silverton

Theme- Fences
Judge: David Oates
1st Place: “Fences/for Sam” by Toni Hanner, Eugene
2nd Place: “North Korea” by Joy McDowell, Springfield
3rd Place: “Night View” by Pamela Wilson, Corvallis

Experimental Poetry,
Judge: Dan Raphael
1st Place: “The Taste of Blue Light” by Toni Hanner, Eugene
2nd Place: “A Month of Sundays” by Nancy Flynn, Portland
3rd Place: “Friday Morning” by Michael Hanner, Eugene

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National Readathon Day is coming

For many of us, there are few things more appealing than curling up on the sofa with a good book, so America’s first National Readathon Day, organized by Penguin Random House publishers is an event I can lean into. The publishing giant is asking folks to set aside four hours on Jan. 20, 2015, from noon to 4:00 pm and read. Sounds good to me. The event is in support of literacy, education and sustaining a lifelong love of reading. The campaign, which launched this week, encourages book lovers to get together and make time to read. It also serves as a reminder that millions of American adults still struggle with basic literacy.

The readathon is a fundraiser to support the National Book Foundation which presents the annual National Book Awards and organizes after-school reading programs and other literacy events. Other partners in the project include Goodreads and the news website, Mashable. Bookstores, libraries and schools are encouraged to join in. Participants can use the online fundraising service, firstgiving.com and invite friends and family to donate, or groups such as book clubs, libraries or schools can form a fundraising team.

Visit the Readathon Resources page for supporting materials and information on how to get started.
The Readathon also encourages everyone to share their experiences and photos using the hashtag, #timetoread.

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A puzzle book for writers

With all the books about writing and being a better writer out there, it’s fun to find one that surprises readers and offers a different perspective. “A Muse and a Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery, and Magic,” by Peter Turchi explores the connections between writing and puzzles, both puzzle making and puzzle solving. Turchi writes that mystery is at the heart of all storytelling. Writers have the ability to create a state of wonder that draws in the reader, just as master puzzle makers and magicians create a similar state of credible illusion to draw us into their world.

The book includes examples of various writers from Chekhov to Mark Twain, who Turchi says have mastered the ability to present themselves and withhold information in such a way that invites the reader to step into the story and solve each mystery. Turchi writes that writers want to lead readers in a particular direction. For the reader, writing is like a puzzle in that it offers a bit of a challenge and the pleasure of completion. Ideally, it gives us something to think about as well.

“Amuse and a Maze” is a treat for puzzle lovers too, as it discusses the history of puzzles, magic tricks and labyrinths, and their obsessive quality. To demonstrate the challenges and rewards offered by puzzles and good writing, there are puzzles scattered throughout the book. Helpfully, the puzzle answers are in the back.

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Time to write that novel

It’s November, and that means National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo is here. NaNoWriMo is a fun and sometimes nerve-wracking low-stakes competition for anyone who has thought about starting a novel but didn’t, or who (like me) has started several novels but never followed through. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel during a single month, starting from scratch and reaching “The End” by November 30.

The event was started by Bay Area writer Chris Baty in 1999 and has grown from 21 participants the first year to over 300,000 participants and more than 55,000 “winners” in 2013. In order to win, writers have to make the 50,000 word mark and post their work on the website before midnight on the 30th. There are no judges, no prizes, and entries are deleted from the server before anyone even reads them. Winners don’t get prizes or money or a contract, but on December 1, they wake up knowing they are novelists.

Will they have written great novels? For the most part, no, though the NaNoWriMo websites says an estimated 100 published novels have ties to NaNoWriMo, such as Sara Gruen’s best-seller, “Water for Elephants,” and Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus. ” Still, for the most part NaNoWriMo is a great exercise for writers. What matters is quantity, not quality. Because with only a month to write, there is no time to get bogged down in editing or reworking passages and tweaking chapters. The point is to have fun and to liberate writers from procrastination and fear, to help them discover a creativity and drive they maybe didn’t know they have.

Grab some coffee and visit the NaNoWriMo website at http://nanowrimo.org to get started. The site also lists tips, inspiration and even a link to regional Rogue Valley groups if you want some local support.

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Celebrating Dylan Thomas

October 27 marks the 100th anniversary of poet Dylan Thomas birth, and folks around the world are celebrating with readings, performances or simply taking a quiet moment to read a Thomas poem.

While the Welsh poet is known for poems such “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night, and the play “Under the Milk Wood,” he was just as well-known for his hard drinking and tragically short life.

Born in 1914, Thomas was about 16 years years old when he began copying his early poems into what would become known as his notebooks—a practice he continued for years and which contributed to several of his first collections.

When still a teenager, he left school to become a junior reporter at the South Wales Daily Post. The job didn’t last long as he quit to devote himself to poetry full time.

After his poem “and death shall have no dominion” was published in 1933, Thomas began traveling to England and meeting with editors of well-regarded literary magazines. His star rose fast in the literary world, and with his emotional and flamboyant reading style he was a sought after reader in both England and the U.S.

The poet who inspired The Beatles put him on the cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” or Robert Zimmerman to rename himself Bob Dylan, died at the age of 39 from pneumonia and alcohol complications. Thomas took the very personal and made it universal, exploring memory, childhood and what it means to feel truly at home in the world.

Take a moment this week to celebrate Thomas. If you can’t make it to Swansea, Wales for the 36-hour long “Dylathon” featuring readings by Ian McKellen and Prince Charles, or New York’s 92Y Poetry Center’s reading of his play “Under Milk Wood,” or Portland where local actors will set up at a downtown bar and read from some of Thomas’ greatest works, then grab a collection of Thomas’ poetry or check out this Youtube recording below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mRec3VbH3ws across

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Finding your voice

Local writer and SOU creative-writing instructor, Vincent Craig Wright is helping writers focus on their unique creative voice with his upcoming workshop “You Already Have a Voice.” The workshop will show writers how to find, develop and embrace their distinct style, personality or viewpoint in a piece of writing or other creative work.

Finding your voice and giving yourself the freedom to say things in your own way isn’t always easy. Wright’s workshop is a chance to discover those unique aspects of your own writing voice, enrich your work and give that essay, poem or novel a personal stamp. It’s also a chance to learn from an expert with a stand-out writing voice of his own. Wright is a nationally acclaimed short story writer and song writer, with a fun teaching style and loads of insight. He says he wants people use what they already have and be proud of who they are as writers. “I try and empower people to indeed write the way they talk, or at least somewhat. I want them to understand that in the uniqueness of their way of communicating lies art,” Wright says.

The workshop is at the Central Point City Hall Council Chambers on Saturday, November 1, with a morning presentation from 10 a.m. to noon, and an afternoon presentation from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Wright says the afternoon workshop will include discussion, writing exercises and revision work so bring a writing device, paper and 2-4 pages of recent work. “The exercises and talk will help us explore what we have and what can be,” he said. “I think it will benefit writers of all sorts.”

Co-founder of the Institute of New Writing in Ashland, Wright also has current work in “Fourteen Hills” and “The Harvard Advocate,” and upcoming work in “Solstice Magazine.” He is the author of the short-story collection “Redemption Center,” and has written songs for HBO with Megatrax, and performed all over the country.

The Central Point City Hall council chambers are located at 140 S. 3rd St., Central Point.
The morning presentation is free for members and $10 for visitors. The afternoon workshop is $30 for members, $35 for visitors or $40 dollars for both morning and afternoon.

Pre-registration for the afternoon workshop is requested at soww77@gmail.com.

For more information visit http://willamettewriters.com/southernoregon/2014/10/you-already-have-a-voice-with-vincent-craig-wright/

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Grammar: The Movie

Grammar geeks, grab your popcorn and download the new documentary “Grammar Revolution,” a film made by former teachers David and Elizabeth O’Brien, and funded with a Kickstarter campaign.

The short film is a quirky and sometimes funny exploration of language and grammar in society today, offering some thoughtful commentary on how we view grammar and why it is being taught less and less in schools. The cast includes some famous grammarians (if that is a thing) such as Harvard linguist Steven Pinker, author of “The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century,” activist and linguist Noam Chomsky, Columbia professor John McWhorter, author of “Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English,” Mignon Fogarty, producer of the podcast “Grammar Girl’s Quick & Dirty Tips for Better Writing,” and many more. There are also interviews with teachers, students, and business executives.

While there are tips on usage such as “who” and “whom” or what exactly a dangling participle looks like, the film offers more of a discussion about the social and politics aspects of language, who gets the jobs, who gets respect, and why grammar is an important subject with an important place in our daily lives. The idea of a grammar documentary may seem a bit stuffy at first glance, but it is surprisingly entertaining and well worth the $8 download.

Check out the trailer on the Grammar Revolution website. The site also features loads of tools for teaching and learning grammar.


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Time to break out those clerihews, dorklets and limericks

Lighthearted poetry doesn’t always get the respect it deserves, and to be honest there’s a lot of goofy stuff out there, but good light verse is a kick to hear and especially fun to create. One expert at writing comic verse is local poet Dave Harvey.

Harvey is conducting a free workshop Saturday, October 11, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Medford Public Library’s Carpenter room for anyone who loves a little humor with their poetry or poetry with their humor. Harvey says the workshop will be loosely structured, with the main focus on getting people writing. “My hope is to give a few ideas, using handouts, then get a roomful of poets writing and sharing and, I hope, giggling,” he said.

While he’s a master at the comic form, Harvey also has a real gift for balancing warmth and thoughtfulness with his humor much of his work. His workshop is sure to leave participants inspired and smiling.The workshop will focus on various forms of light verse such as the limerick (though briefly since Harvey says most folks know that form already), the higgledy-piggledy, the clerihew, the pompouselle, the Ogden Nasherie, and the dorklet/dorklette. Just the names sound like fun.

For folks like me who are not familiar with the forms Harvey offers some examples of his own below:

A clerihew is a whimsical four-line poem:

President Barack Obama
Eschews excessive drama.
He has a short tonsorial,
And his manner’s professorial.

Here’s an example of the dorklet:
Who’ll writecha pomes of flavor naval?
Yer Uncle Dave’ll.

A pompouselle, is all about the title.

Elegy on a Dead House Cat Run Over and Rain-Drenched Beside U.S. 101, Noticed by the Poet While Climbing a Grade on his Bicycle on the First Sunny Day in Two Weeks, While a Murder of Crows Caw in a Nearby Tree

Poor mangled, soggy pussycat!
Those semis really mashed him flat!

Harvey is the coordinator and frequent host of the Downtown Coffee House open mike series which meets monthly in Talent. His work has appeared in a number of magazines and he is the author of five chapbooks, three novels, and one true account, “The Fifteen-Speed Cowboy,” which tells of his bicycle trip to Alabama, where he found true love.

The workshop is free, but registration is requested in order to manage handouts and seating. To register email marisahp9@gmail.com.

The Medford Library is located at 205 South Central Avenue, Medford.

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    Angela Decker

    Angela Decker's poems have appeared in African Voices, Comstock Review, Hip Mama, The Wisconsin Review, Jefferson Monthly, and others. She occasionally teaches poetry writing at Southern Oregon University and shares the arts & literature column ... Read Full
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