Wise Words from Lawson Inada

Wise Words from Lawson Inada

Oregon's Poet Laureate, Lawson Inada.

On Nov. 3 Lawson Inada, Oregon’s Poet Laureate, paid a visit to Ashland High School’s creative writing class. As soon as Inada strolled into the classroom, he emanated friendliness and a casual attitude. Opening his bag, he glanced at the classroom, smiled and said “Hey, hey, hey!” The informal greeting immediately lightened the room’s atmosphere and convinced the students that this lecture would be far from dull.

Such a welcoming demeanor was admittedly unexpected for a poet of his prestige. Today, Inada boasts numerous book awards including the American Book Award, several poetry fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts, and the Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry. He represents Oregon as the Poet Laureate at many events, including ones taking place at the White House. Despite these accomplishments, Inada is modest and easy to relate to. When teacher Kathi Bowen-Jones showed him his Wikipedia page, his face first took an expression of surprise, then crinkled into a frown of  deep disgust.

Right off the bat, Inada began a laid-back discussion on the importance of writing down one’s thoughts. Lawson himself began keeping a notepad in high school which he would scribble on constantly, even during class lectures.

“It kinda kept my mind on, like I pushed the ‘on’ button,” Lawson reflected, sending himself into a long fit of laughter which petered away into silent giggles. Ever since then, he has written down whatever comes to mind on any available piece of paper, especially in his checkbook. These thoughts can range from revelations to nonsensical dreams. “That’s my mind being creative! As a matter of fact, some of you might be looking at me, but you’re somewhere else. I might have said checkbook and your mind traveled to the checkout stand at Bi-Mart!” This conclusion sent him into a second spasm of chuckles.

The rest of Inada’s discussion consisted of life-stories, and pieces of wisdom for young writers and students. These tidbits of advice ranged from serious to refreshingly comic. At one point a student explained how she had forgotten an assignment in one class that day. Inada chuckled in response, and exclaimed (much to the shock of Mrs. Bowen-Jones) “You know what you should have said? You should have said, ‘Teacher, I forgot my homework because you’re a terrible teacher and this class is boring!’”

Near the end of his visit Inada shared one insight. If there’s one phrase that comes to mind when he thinks of high school, it’s “Locker Combination.” Locker, because of the need for personal space; combination, because in high school we all begin to learn to work with others and to expand our horizons socially. It’s safe to say that Lawson Inada’s warm and honest lecture added to this experience, helping AHS students begin to expand their vision.