Roethke Summer Picnics Feature World Class Poets

20th Anniversary of Firing Up Picnics in a Poet's Backyard

Posted In: Culture, Community Profiles, Poetry,   From Issue 932   By: Robert E Martin

14th July, 2022     0

The summer months heat up in a big way on the literary front as the Friends of Theodore Roethke Foundation resume their 2022 Roethke Summer Picnic Series in July and August with their 20th Annual (In-Person) In a Poet’s Backyard Picnics,  which feature readings of poetry & prose in the backyard home of Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Theodore Roethke that is located at 1805 Gratiot in Saginaw.

According to FOTR co-founder Anne Ransford, this was an idea conceived back in 2000 when she visited the James Thurber house in downtown Columbus. This is our 20th season of Literary Picnics that allows everybody to get happy in the poet’s backyard,” she notes. “A lot of non-profits were stunned by the COVID situation, but we didn’t let it stop us and became flexible by moving to a Virtual Series in 2020 & 2021, so are very excited to be able to return to in-person gatherings.”

Indeed, the past two years have witnessed not only additions and renovations to the physical structures, but expanded interest and engagement from the general public. “We were able to move forward with renovation of the Stone House because the community stepped forward and help us match funding so we now have $50,000 to work with; and last winter Joe Dey came in with Alex DeParry and got the boiler system going,” she explains.

“Then from January through May this year we had a Saginaw Chap Book project and reached out nationally to writers and workshops and speakers, which ended in April with these participants offering their poetry, which we published in a Chap book,” she continues. “

We have William Barillas on our Board, who edited a field guide to Roethke’s poetry, who has a collection of several essays; Edward Hirsch spoke at our series in May and is Director of the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, so we were happy to get him; and we also featured Diane Seuss from Kalamazoo who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry this year, teaches at Kalamazoo College, and is a huge fan of Roethke.  Three weeks after she spoke for us she won the Pulitzer.  When she came home her house was filled with roses and she said she felt like Ted Roethke’s Prom date,” smiles Anne.

Since debuting their Speaker Series virtually through Zoom, Ransford points out how they now enjoy a national audience, “Usually for the in-person picnics we’ll have 20 to 30 people gathering outside,” she explains, “but one of our virtual talks had 90 people sign-up. Plus, this year we received the donation of a great speaker system for the outdoor events, which will help immensely.”

Here’s what’s in store for the months of July & August:

• ‘Nature Poems from Ancient & Imperial China • Tuesday, July 19th • 4:00 - 5:00 PM • A Presentation by Norma Clack.

Norma Clack, a former member of the Theodore Roethke Board, will present information from her 2021 book Their View of North China, 1910-1923: Robert W. and Edith G. Clack. Norma’s grandparents lived in China in the early 20th century and after returning to the States, Robert was a professor at Alma College until he retired. He was the first YMCA director in Paotingfu, China. He translated Chinese and Japanese poetry and his work – covering 4,000 years – was published in seven volumes in the 1970s. Besides presenting her grandfather's poetry, Norma will present historical letters written by an American family living in China from 1910 and 1923, personal accounts of warlord battles, epidemics, and famines, and more than 100 photographs taken in China by Robert Clack.

• Roethke Open Houses • Thurs, Fri., Sat, August 5-6-7 • 4:00 - 8:00 PM

Open House Events are free & open to the public.

Thurs • Aug 4th • Take historic house tours with Tom Trombley, Chief Historian from the Saginaw Castle Museum from 4 - 8 PM, with both the Roethke & Stone house open for viewing at 6 PM and poetry readings at 7 PM.

Friday • Aug. 5 • Take literary house tours with Jeff VandeZande, author of the award-winning novel American Poet from 4-8 PM, followed by a Poetry Workshop at 6 PM led by poet Donny Winter. Pre-register at

Saturday • Aug. 6 • Kid friendly house tours with volunteers from 4 to 8 PM, with a concert by Major Chords for Minors at 5 PM, with the houses open for informal viewing at 6 PM and a Poetry Slam led by Jared Morningstar at 7 PM.

• ‘Child on Top of a Greenhouse’ Language & Art Camps • July 14 - August 2

Roethke Language and Art Camps feature reading and writing tutoring, snacks and activities from Roethke’s 1920s era with visits from artists and writers and visits to Roethke House Museum from Warren Street Presbyterian Church, 612 Millard.  The camp runs for six weeks beginning in June, and includes Language Arts Camps and Party at the Zoo on July 29th.

“I’ve given a new spin to these Language Camps, which will consist of a smaller camp within the larger camp directed by Joyce Seals,” explains Ransford. “At Roethke House we’ll have just 12 students (Roethke only had 12 in his classes) and 12 tutors to work with young students on language arts review.  We will learn about the poet in his house room by room to learn about Growing up in a Poet’s house in the 1920s.  When the children complete camp in 6 weeks, they’ll know more about this legendary poet, his house and poems, increase their language arts skills and be nurtured by a tutor to understand that learning to learn is fun.”

“Ever since 2008 we have written grants and Joyce Seals has conducted these field trips every Friday where we feed the kids breakfast, lunch, and a snack, and learn more about Roethke and their community,” she continues. “We split the camps into morning and afternoon sessions and provide workbooks and tutoring in the language arts for six weeks, which gives kids more security when they start elementary school.”

“We feature one tutor for one students, and are always looking for volunteer to assist with tutoring the kids,” she adds. “Two hours a day on Tuesday and Wednesday in the morning the tutor builds a relationship with mostly inner city kids from pre-school to the 4th grade. We provide workbooks for tutors with the answer on the back, so this gives these kids nurturing. We plant a little garden and watch it grow for six weeks, teach them to keep a journal, and then take them to the Saginaw Children’s Zoo, as many of these kids live by the zoo, but can’t afford to go.”

“At the zoo we’ll gather at the amphitheater and read Roethke’s Children’s’ poetry. He wrote a poem about pink ice cream, so we’ll find strawberry cups and serve pink ice cream; plus Roethke wrote two poems about snakes, so some years the caretakers at the zoo bring out a huge boa constrictor so the kids can touch it and experience sides of life they may not be exposed to.”

Celebration of Friendship & Poetry: An Evening with Poets Linda Nemec Foster & Jack Ridl • Wednesday • August 24 • 7:00-8:00 PM

Linda Nemec Foster has published twelve collections of poetry including Amber Necklace from Gdansk, Talking Diamonds, and The Lake Michigan Mermaid (2019 Michigan Notable Book) which was created with co-author Anne-Marie Oomen and artist Meridith Ridl. Her work appears in magazines and journals such as The Georgia Review, Nimrod, New American Writing, North American Review, Verse Daily, and the 2022 Best Small Fictions Anthology. In 2021, her poetry book The Blue Divide was published by New Issues Press. A new collection of flash fiction, Bone Country, is forthcoming in 2023. The first Poet Laureate of Grand Rapids, Michigan (2003-2005), Foster is the founder of the Contemporary Writers Series at Aquinas College.

Jack Ridl, Poet Laureate of Douglas, Michigan (Population 1100), is the author of Saint Peter and the Goldfinch (Wayne State University Press). His Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (WSUPress, 2013) was awarded the National Gold Medal for poetry by ForeWord Reviews. His collection

Broken Symmetry (WSUPress) was co-recipient of The Society of Midland Authors best book of poetry award for 2006. His Losing Season (CavanKerry Press) was named the best sports book of the year for 2009 by The Institute for International Sport. In 1996 The Carnegie (CASE) Foundation named him Michigan Professor of the Year. More than 100 of Jack’s students are published, several of whom have received First Book Awards and national honors.

“We are deeply indebted to our Grant Funders, who keep our dreams and endeavors alive,” concludes Anne.  “The Open House is funded in part by Michigan Humanities, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities; and our Language Camp & Literary Picnics are also supported by these entities, in addition to support by the Saginaw Community Foundation ArtReach grants and a donation from Hemlock Semiconductor.”

For more details visit and follow them on Facebook and Instagram@FriendsOfRoethke.


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