The summer months kick off a big year for the Friends of Theodore Roethke, who will be launching their series of Literary Picnics titled ‘In A Poet’s Backyard’. According to FOTR President Anne Ransford, this was an idea conceived back when she visited the James Thurber house in downtown Columbus.
“This is our 19th season of Literary Picnics that allows everybody to get happy in the poet’s backyard,” she notes. “Fiction writers, poets, and anything that goes along with Roethke is featured, ranging upon topics from mental health to journaling and the process of writing.”
The first Literary Picnic will happen at Roethke House on June 18th as part of the Collaborative Writing Workshop Series. In conjunction with the Saginaw Community Writing Center, Jared Morningstar will facilitate a summer series of six creative writing workshops taking place at the Roethke House ($10 charge) and Butman Fish Library (free) from 6:00 – 7:30 pm.
Workshops will focus on initial draft creation with prompts and discussion based on themes or techniques. Writers of all ages are welcome. Morningstar currently teaches 9th and 10th Grade English at the Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy and is an Adjunct Professor of English at Saginaw Valley State University and Delta College. Additional workshops will take place June 25 (Butman Fish), July 16 (Roethke House), July 23 (Butman Fish), August 20 (Roethke House), August 27 (Butman Fish). Reservations are preferred: by phoning 989-928-0430, but walk-ins are welcome.
The next Literary Picnic will take place on Saturday, June 29th, from 6-8 PM with a major program titled Creativity to Completion with Mary McDonnell & Catherine McMichael in Conversation. Composer Catherine McMichael and muralist Mary McDonnell (both with Saginaw connections) are nationally and internationally recognized for work in their respective disciplines. For this evening Roethke House brings them together for an intimate round table discussion on what goes into making a piece of art. Finding inspiration and drawing on the other’s artistic discipline, they’ll discuss how they adapt the creative process to transform something abstract into something concrete. A lively exchange between the two is expected, with music and visuals woven into the evening’s program. Audience participation invited. A $25 dinner catered by Sullivan’s will also be included and reservations are also requested for this event.
“Both of these women are big hitters,” enthuses Anne, “and Mary is a visual artist based out of New York City now who travels the world. She grew up on Alice Street which was walking distance from Roethke House; and Catherine is a remarkable composer and getting these two women together in many ways is one of the crown jewels of our season.”
Let’s Talk About Anxiety & Depression will be the topic for Saturday, July 13th’s Literary Picnic, which will run from 6:00 - 7:30 PM at Roethke House. LLPC Amanda Morningstar leads an engaging discussion on anxiety and depression. Symptoms of these disorders will be examined, as well as tools for managing stress and relaxation techniques. This includes discourse on how writing can improve mental health. Appropriate for all ages. Morningstar currently practices in Mount Pleasant at Rowan Psychological Associates and admission for this picnic is $12.00 Dessert catered by Hamilton Bakery. Reservations required: 989-928-0430.
“I’ve always wanted to feature more outreach for mental health in our series,” reflects Anne, “because if Roethke wasn’t bi-polar we probably wouldn’t have the poetry we from him that we have today because of the way he struggled with this condition. Roethke wrote ‘In a dark time the eye begins to see’ and that line pretty much sums it up and comes from one of the strongest poems he’s ever written, in my own opinion.”
Wednesday, July 17th from 5:30 – 7:30 pm will consist of the InsideOut Literary Arts Visit, with two Michigan poets sharing the background of Detroit’s oldest and largest literary non-profit organization. This writer-in-residence program has served more than 58,000 students in Detroit schools. Alise Alousi is a Knight Arts Challenge Detroit awardee whose poems have appeared in numerous journals. Lia Greenwell is a poet and essayist whose work has appeared in the Kenyon Review, the Missouri Review, and elsewhere. She received her MFA in Poetry from Warren Wilson College and serves as Operations Coordinator at InsideOut Literary Arts. Alise and Lia will share student work, some inspired by Roethke, as well as their own poetry $15 Wine and Cheese (Scholarships available) Reservations Required: 989-928-0430.
“These two women work in Detroit and basically InsideOut will send poets into schools to work with kids,” explains Anne. “I believe they have proven how poetry can change lives with the right mentor and instructor.”
July 16th from 1:30 - 2:30 pm is a special Party at the Zoo, which is held at Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square, 1730 S. Washington. Based upon a Roethke Poem this program functions as an Open mic for Children’s poetry, games, hats, and refreshments and is free with zoo admission.
Remaining programming for the month of August includes the following:
The Power of the Pen: A Writing Discussion and Workshop • Monday, August 5 - 5:30 – 7:30 pm
Former Michigan High School English and Creative Writing Teacher of the Year Jared Morningstar will lead a discussion on the unique power possessed by writers as well as how the written word can truly be mightier than the sword. A brief examination of relevant literature will follow as well as an opportunity for participants to wield their own creative powers by producing and sharing original pieces. Appropriate for all ages. $12 Light refreshments. Reservations required: 989-928-0430
“The Lost Son: A Digital Project Showcasing Theodore Roethke’s Central Michigan Roots” Wednesday • August 7 - 3:30 – 5:30 pm. Created and presented by Aparna Zambare, English Bibliographer and Professor in Central Michigan University Libraries. Roethke’s family, his childhood home, his father’s greenhouses, and the landscape of mid-Michigan have been at the heart of a good deal his poetic experience. This digital exhibit aims at celebrating the connection between the landscape and a few of his celebrated poems in the new world media. Roethke is studied internationally and is part of American Literature curriculum in Indian universities. $15 Indian food and drink served. Reservations required: 989-928-0430
The Value of Being a Keeper • Wednesday, August 14 7:00 – 9:00 pm
Wilma Romatz will discuss ways “the stuff we have kept” can lead to visual art and journaling or memoir, and show examples from her own work. Wilma is a Mott Community College retired English professor who has focused in retirement on her long-time work as a visual artist and writer. She will show examples of how photos and family memorabilia have inspired her writing, printmaking, and installations, and discuss ways “the stuff we have kept” can lead to visual art and journaling or memoir. She will include references to ways the writing and art of others, as well as her own, can also be healing. $15 admission with wine and cheese served. Reservations required: 989-928-0430
Poems about Mothers and Daughters: A Reprise • Wednesday, August 21 @ 7:00 – 9:00 pm
In her last appearance at the Roethke House, Rosalie Riegle, former SVSU professor, revisits one of her favorite topics in a reprise of her 2005 presentation. Men who have had mothers or daughters are especially encouraged to attend. $15 wine and cheese. Reservations Required: 989-928-0430
Also scheduled as part of their summer programming from June 24 - August 2nd are the Child on Top of a Greenhouse Roethke Language & Art Camps, which feature reading and writing tutoring, snacks and activities from the poet’s 1920s era, with visits from artists & writers and visits to Roethke House Museum from the new camp location at Warren St. Presbyterian Church, 612 Millard.
“These language camps involve one-on-one tutorials with preschool to Grade 4 children for two-hours,” explains Anne. “This involves about 45-minutes of reading and writing where children work on their journals, and then we break for a snack from Roethke’s times, such as an oatmeal cookie or ice cream cone, which many don’t realize was first introduced at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.”
Saving the Stone House
“I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. I feel my fate in what I cannot fear. I learn by going where I have to go.” - Theodore Roethke, from ‘The Waking’.
The Theodore & Carl Roethke Homes are adjacent residences located on Gratiot Street on Saginaw’s West Side, formerly belonging to the family of Michigan Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Theodore Roethke. Earlier this year the Stone House of Carl Roethke was threatened with demolition, however after The Review published an in-depth assessment analyzing the ramifications of such a move, public support for preserving the structure resulted in the Friends of Theodore Roethke Board of Directors deciding to reverse their growth and launch a broad-scale campaign to save the Stone House.
A non-profit foundation since 1999 with numerous historic designations, FOTR is actively involved in the community and received an All Area Arts Award for adding to the quality of Saginaw life in 2008, the poet’s Centennial year.
“Recently, we have found renewed energy for our commitment to our original mission to promote preserve, and protect the literary legacy of Roethke by restoring his family residences for cultural and educational purposes,” states Director Anne Ransford. “When both houses are operational, we will be able to offer community programming year around, including a residency for visiting writers to work in area schools, homework tutoring for students, a working greenhouse and parking for safe access, along with mental health outreach informed by the arts in consideration of Roethke’s own struggle with mental illness.”
Consisting entirely of volunteers without paid staff and existing through membership donations and grant writing, Ransford is enthusiastic about the future direction of their endeavors and recent outpouring of community support. “While most historic home museums fail, we continue to travel towards our original mission. In Roethke’s words: “What we need are more people who specialize in the impossible!”
“I feel it’s important for us to stand tall,” asserts Ransford. “I’m truly excited by all the possibilities this second house will give us. We don’t simply want seasonal programs, but would like to see all year programming along with a paid staff and I really feel now is our opportunity.”
“We have a Save The Stone House appeal letter going out to the public, have managed to secure the Stone house and temporarily secure the roof, and our monetary goal for the initial stabilization is only $50,000,” she explains. “It will cost us $20,000 to do the roof, with the remainder needed to pain each side of the house and seal the windows; plus there is asbestos that needs to be cleaned; but I must say, those Germans built some pretty good houses!”
Ransford says the second phase of funding will come through grant writing. “As Board Members I feel it is important for us to find the funds and not rely entirely upon public donations.”
“As the organization entrusted with preservation of the two houses, we are asking our community to join us in saving the Stone House. When you make a gift you’re not just saving a structure; you’re saving a rich piece of Saginaw history and fostering cultural enrichment today.”
If you would like to volunteer your services or make contributions to Save the Stone House, you can contact the Friends of Theodore Roethke on facebook, through their website at friends of Roethke.org, or by mailing your check to Roethke House, PO Box 6001, Saginaw, MI 48608. You can also reach them at 989.928.0430.
9th February, 2024