By Sulima Malzin, Editor, Friends of William Stafford Newsletter
David Hedges is important to Oregon poetry. In fact, his involvement in Oregon’s literary arts community goes back 30 years, when he and Bill Stafford became acquainted as they found themselves at many of the same events. David went on to take some workshops with Bill, and a long and satisfying friendship with the Staffords began.
In 1977, David first joined the board of the Oregon State Poetry Association (OSPA). It was going strong then, and Penny Avila was chair of the Portland Chapter. Many of you will remember her as the poetry editor of The Oregonian’s Northwest Magazine.
As the head of OSPA, Penny would contact national poetry figures, schedule them for workshops, and then leave the “details of filling up the chairs” to David. As his mentor, she encouraged him in his writing, published his first poems, and strengthened the notion he carried that giving is just as meaningful as getting.
This year it seems that David Hedges’s name is popping up everywhere. First it was the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (NFSPS) convention in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he took third place in the Founders Award, (affectionately known as the BIG one) for his aubade, “Dialogue At Dawn.” Next, a terza rima titled “On Stirring The Pot,” was accepted by Poetry magazine.
Then, in September, The Lake Oswego United Church of Christ announced the winners for its annual “In The Beginning Was The Word...” Literary Arts Contest. First place and $500 went to David Hedges. It was for a prose poem entitled “Door To Door On Alameda Drive,” which is his childhood reminiscence of Christmas in Northeast Portland, 1945.
And finally, on November 13, at the Oregon Book Awards ceremony, David accepted the prestigious Stewart H. Holbrook Award for Outstanding Contributions to Oregon’s Literary Life.
Associated for many years with FWS, David has now become a lifetime member. Most recently, he was involved in the successful effort to establish the William Stafford Pathway and participated in its dedication ceremony. He was also instrumental in establishing OSPA’s annual William Stafford Award.
David recalled his last conversation with Bill, just a few weeks before he died. They had run into each other, as they often did, at the Lake Oswego Lazerquick, and talked about making a trip to the desert together in the fall. David’s poem “Desert Rendezvous With William Stafford,” grew out of that conversation. In 1997, it was given First Prize in the Perryman-Visser National Poetry Awards.
“Door To Door On Alameda Drive” speaks well of this poet’s life and his dedication to bringing poetry to the masses. The poem begins with, The ad on the back cover of the Captain Marvel comic book said Win Valuable Prizes!, an irresistible invitation to one with aspirations like mine.
It goes on ... Up and down Alameda Drive I trudged with my packets of flower seeds tucked tightly into slots in the cardboard box I could barely carry. Everybody bought one or two, praising my enterprise.
Then Hedges moves into the focus of the poem, For over a year, I ate nothing for breakfast but Wheat Chex ... I saved just enough box tops to make my dream come true.
Later, he reveals the dream: The glitter knocked everybody for a loop: A set of silver-plated dinnerware, complete with butter knives and gravy ladle. Everything but napkin rings and oyster forks, since we had Grandma’s sterling silver napkin rings and never ate oysters except in stew. Besides, I’d have needed more box tops than I could eat Wheat Chex if I’d counted on the works.
Then comes the stanza that says it all: Everybody laughed around the tree. Colored lights sparkled in eyes overflowing with oceans of love, a payoff worthy of my monumental effort. There was no settling for second best, no getting by half-baked. I wanted this more than a real bike. As Nana liked to say, ”The more you give, the more you get.”
In the next stanza, Hedges writes: I got my bike and took right off, wobbling on training wheels up and down Alameda Drive like a young Lawrence of Arabia on his stallion, waving to everybody I knew ... Whole families stepped outside and wished me Merry Christmas!, having seen me struggle past the other way.
David Hedges has worked with diligence for nearly three decades on behalf of the literary arts community in Oregon, while still writing his own poetry. In 1987, he left the OSPA board and joined the board of the Portland Poetry Festival, where his writing skills earned grants from the Metropolitan Arts Commission, Oregon Arts Commission, and National Endowment for the Arts. This allowed the festival to invite poets like W.S. Merwin, Yusef Komunyakaa, Naomi Shihab Nye, and William Stafford, to their 1988 event.
Also in 1988 he joined the board of the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission (OCHC), where for the past 15 years he has contributed time, energy and expertise to a wide range of projects. In 1998 he conceived, coordinated and emceed “RiverSpeak: The Literature and Lore of Oregon Rivers,” an OCHC benefit for the Museum of the Oregon Country at Willamette Falls.
David served on seven grant panels for the Metropolitan Arts Commission and its successor, the Regional Arts & Culture Council. He has judged innumerable poetry contests both statewide and nationally, and helped create Northwest Writers, Inc.
In 1996, David refocused his efforts on OSPA. The organization was in a downward spiral and he thought it was far too valuable to let disappear. OSPA has existed since 1956, when it was founded as a statewide extension of the Verseweavers Poetry Society of Portland, which itself dated back to 1936.
David became president of OSPA, streamlined its constitution and by-laws, and wrote a dynamic mission statement, which reads in part, “to help Oregon poets, young and old, develop their talents and skills; to stimulate, at the grassroots level, a statewide appreciation of poetry; and, to raise public awareness of Oregon poets, past and present.”
More Lawrence of Arabia than the Lone Ranger, David sought advice from the Oregon Literary Coalition about how to prioritize goals and initiatives for the new mission. He came away with the seeds for the Family Poetry Workshop Project, where pairs of poets instruct children and adult mentors in the art and craft of poetry, and help them create chapbooks.
Since 1997, these workshops have been conducted in 25 small libraries around the state.
David was president of OSPA for six years. He stepped down in July of 2002, after increasing the membership by 400%, raising the annual contest prizes from $400 to over $2,000, and establishing the K-12 Oregon Student Poetry Contest, which in the past four years has drawn more than 5,000 entries from every corner of the state.
This year, when corporate funding for that project dried up, David was able to secure a grant from the Oregon Community Foundation’s Walt and Peggy Morey Fund.
David sees the revitalization of OSPA as his way of repaying the debt he owes two very important people: his mentor Penny Avila, and the founder of the original Verseweavers Society and OSPA, Laurence Pratt, the teacher and poet who introduced him to poetry.
There is no doubt that David Hedges, in remaining true to his values of inclusiveness and outreach, will continue to have an impact on Oregon’s literary arts community. Going back to his poem, it would appear that his Nana was right – the more you give, the more you get.
[Reprinted from the Friends of William Stafford Newsletter, Winter 2003]