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Kenneth Fields: A poetic passion

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Kenneth Fields, a long-time Stanford professor in the English and Creative Writing Departments, attributes his success as a poet to the encouragement and inspiration from the diverse individuals he has encountered throughout his life. (Courtesy of Laura Watt)

 

“You can see it’s kind of funky and disorganized, but I kind of know where things are,” said Kenneth Fields Ph.D. ’67, a longtime professor of English and creative writing. “Once in a while, I discover something I’d forgotten about.”

 

The room features a rustic looking armchair, an oft-used couch and a desk stacked with knick knacks in charming disarray. There are books everywhere: on shelves, on the desk, on the floor. In fact, the floor space is nearly non-existent, which makes the room both look and feel even more chaotic. Also present are Fields’ energetic miniature Australian shepherds, Dot and Jinx, compounding the room’s mismatched aura of homeliness and anarchy.

 

The eccentric and cluttered nature of Fields’s office — he claims there is a trumpet stashed somewhere in the room, as well as an Australian Aboriginal didgeridoo — mirrors his unique upbringing and education, which inspires much of his writing.

 

Fields was born to a pair of farmers in Texas. He had a twin brother who died when they were only a day old.

 

“He’s buried in this little country cemetery in Texas, [and] I’ve been back there a couple of times,” he said. “It turned out that that had something to do with my psychology as it comes through in my poems.”

 

Fields moved to California as a young boy, and after finishing high school, he attended UC-Santa Barbara.

 

“I went there with no particular interests,” Fields said. “I wanted to play football; I didn’t think very far along the line –like could I be playing this when I was 70 or something.”

 

It was at UCSB that Fields found his two main passions in life, reading and writing, through the people he encountered.

 

These individuals included Homer Swander, a “wonderful” professor of Shakespeare, as well as Edgar Bowers M.A. ’49, Ph.D. ’53, a poet who studied at Stanford under the famous critic Yvor Winters. Through the encouragement of these mentors, Fields decided that he wanted to study English at Stanford.

 

After two years in the Army as part of his involvement with Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), Fields finally moved to the Farm, where he has remained for 45 years, first as a graduate student, then as a professor and poet.

“There were lots of people around who were interested in writing, and I guess I just stayed with it,” Fields said. “I thought I was good at it, and it’s what I loved doing.”

 

Fields has numerous books of poetry, including a collection of blank verse sonnets entitled “Classic Rough News.” Now, Fields is working on a novel, tentatively called “Father of Mercies.”

 

“I essentially consider myself a poet,” he said. “How I got into the novel, I don’t know — probably half of the English professors in the world have a secret novel in their desk drawers.”

 

With this breezy spirit as a writer, one might argue it follows that Fields appreciates improvisation as an important aspect of writing. In fact, improvisation is a big part of one of Fields’s other hobbies: photography.

 

“I love the sense of shooting from the hip and seeing what the camera sees as an artist,” he said.

 

At the same time, Fields’s image of himself as a writer has never been clear-cut, he said, and his encounters and relationships with a wide variety of individuals during his long tenure at Stanford have affected his perspective.

 

“Lots of different people have come and gone,” Fields said. “Just being around other writers, the combination of younger writers coming in as fellows and my colleagues, has had a big effect on how I think of myself as a writer.”

 

The most important time to Fields, however, was his years in college that sparked and nurtured his still-developing passion for writing. He holds that teachers need to model the excitement they have for their disciplines so that students can truly become enthralled by their experiences in the classroom, as he once was.

 

“The key is to look for something that moves you,” he said.

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