Friday, February 29, 2008

Garrison Keillor Performs in Saginaw


By Garrison Keillor

Tribune Media Services

I have rather low self-esteem, which is a handicap for a man in this line of work whom you, dear reader, expect to give you 750 words in the strike zone about the economic stimulus package and all those little government checks going out to 130 million of you in hopes you'll go buy candles to light against the darkness and maybe a rod and reel so you can teach a man to fish, but I can't and it's too late to rebuild self-confidence.

I write these words in a Ramada Inn in Saginaw, Michigan, hometown of the poet Theodore Roethke, who wrote a poem that began, "I knew a woman, lovely in her bones, when small birds sighed she would sigh back at them." I came here to give a speech and afterward a man said, "Thanks for coming. It's so hard to get first-rate speakers to come to Saginaw." Which was sort of crushing to me.

Evidently they'd tried to get Alan Greenspan to come and read tea leaves for them and, failing that, had to settle for me. Oh well. Probably if Roethke himself had come to Saginaw, they'd have said, "Nice of you to come, Ted. We tried to get Louis Jenkins but he was asking too much money and demanded a first-class hotel."

My speech is entitled "Aging: The Opportunity of a Lifetime" and at twenty-five minutes it's a little long. The audience was rather subdued, and who can blame them? Saginaw is sagging, along with the rest of Michigan, and you see guys sliding into the bars at 9 a.m. and you see the For Sale signs and feel in your gut the pain of people whose houses are their IRAs and you want to pull into their driveway and give them a hug, but nobody wants a tall guy with glasses and low self-esteem to throw his arms around them unless he is a buyer with his checkbook out and a ballpoint pen.

I almost said, "I suffer from low self-esteem," but I've met people with high self-esteem and that is a real affliction - the big honkers barreling through airports hollering into their cell phones, who have less self-doubt than the average caribou, galloping around and making a big impression - guys who used to attend my sales seminar, "Why Not Be the Best, Earn Buckets of Money, and Retire Before You're Fifty to a Beach House on Barbados?" I remember them well. They paid $1,000 apiece to hear a whole string of clichés revarnished and covered with cat fur and afterward they said, "Thanks for your ideas. It's so hard to find inspirational speakers who really inspire you."

I'll tell you one thing. I wish I'd written "when small birds sighed she would sigh back at them" - such a fine thought, and what did Alan Greenspan ever say in ten words that moves you so much as those, assuming you have known a gentle woman with lovely bones who is so attuned to the world that she can hear the sighing of birds - and I admire Saginaw for producing Roethke and for celebrating his centennial in May and preserving his boyhood home at 1805 Gratiot Avenue.

It will be a reminder to Saginaw that out of suffering come gifts of great beauty. Roethke suffered from bipolar disorder, was alcoholic, came back to Gratiot Avenue several times to recuperate from breakdowns, and died at fifty-five. But he was a brilliant teacher. And he wrote "My Papa's Waltz" and exquisite poems about his father's greenhouses in Saginaw and the poem about the woman who sighed at birds.

You can sit in the Saginaw airport, as I did, waiting for persons unknown to you to ask you to carry something aboard the aircraft, worrying what they might do if you report them to the nearest authorities, and think of that woman lovely in her bones, when small birds sighed she would sigh back at them, and your mind is carried to thoughts of various women whose bone structure you have known and whose sighs, which you had imagined were about you and your finesse as a lover, were actually meant for nuthatches and chickadees, and that is an interesting idea to carry with you to Lincoln, Nebraska, the next stop on the tour. My new lecture is entitled "Discover Yourself Through Vegetable Gardening" and I am generally available for booking all through March, April and May. Rates are negotiable.

(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)

(c) 2008 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Skip Renker's Birthday February 14, 2008

This was us on Valentine's Day, 2008. Front row, L to R: Michelle, Bev, Wilma and her husband David, Julia, Maureen, James, Susan. Back row, L to R: Jack, Andy, Skip, Laurene. We met on Skip's birthday at the Barnes & Noble Bookseller in Saginaw, Michigan, to read a few of his poems out loud together. We enjoyed singing "Happy Birthdays To You" to Skip but I'm not sure he enjoyed that. I read his poem "Fierce Talisman," and he read a few himself. Because we knew Skip was a teacher at Delta College (a community college primarily serving Midland, Bay City and Saginaw residents), we were not surprised but pleased when he announced that he had a few notes prepared regarding what he'd like to talk about. He brought copies of The Lord's Prayer to share with everyone, and he pointed out some of the rich internal rhymes in that prayer. Skip also made some general remarks about the King James Bible, citing it as an influence on him and on his writing. Then he told us that Richard Wilbur is another influence on him, and he shared with us his close reading of "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World."

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World
by Richard Wilbur

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
The soul shrinks

From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessèd day,
And cries,
“Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,
“Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
keeping their difficult balance.”

accessed 2/24/08
I was glad to meet Skip's friend Laurene who is a nun. I also enjoyed meeting Julia's sister Susan. Skip and Julia are husband and wife; Julia still teaches English at Delta College. Jack and Maureen are cousins. These are intelligent, well-educated, and articulate people. Michelle, for instance, has a master's degree in English. Wilma and David are both retired English teachers, as is Bev. After about an hour and a half, we broke from our "official" purpose and began mingling. Pictures by Anonymous.

"It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued." River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Here you have a few River Junction Poets, met on the occasion of Yeats' birthday, 2005. We were at the Barnes & Noble bookseller on Tittabawassee Road in Saginaw, Michigan. Pictured are, from L to R: Andy Christ, Karen Choate, Marion Tincknell, Betty van Ochten, Sue Nearing, Colleen van Connett, Pat McNair, Robert Schade and Pat Bourdow. Thanks to Janet Marineau for taking the picture. At the time this picture was taken, all the people in the picture were members of the River Junction Poets for at least two years. Roughly nine months after this picture was taken, we lost our dear friend and fellow poet Robert Schade to an infection shortly after his surgery. May he rest in peace. Not only did he write his own witty verse, he translated poems from German into English and shared them with the group. We remember him as a gentle man, lover of life, a fellow sorrowfully missed.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Postcard from New Hampshire

In June (2006), when seven of us met at the Barnes & Noble in Saginaw (Michigan) to read poems by
Maxine Kumin on the occasion of her birthday, we decided to send a birthday card to Ms. Kumin. We all signed it, and Pat sent it to Norton (her publisher) on behalf of all of the River Junction Poets. Apparently the card was forwarded because Pat received a response from Ms. Kumin late in July. On a post card, Ms. Kumin wrote:

Dear Patricia,
Norton just forwarded the delightful birthday card you and the other RJ poets signed. My warm thanks to all of you. It was a happy surprise to be so closely read in Saginaw.
Best, Maxine, 7-18-06

A few days before our meeting, I read a few essays by Ms. Kumin. Pat, our Newsletter editor, had recommended them to me. I was able to share with our group that night at Barnes & Noble some of that information.

We are encouraged, and you should be too!

What is poetry? Fresh bread! We want some more! We want some more!

"It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued." River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mr. Wendell Berry Has Friends in Michigan

Mr. Wendell Berry Has Friends in Michigan

A few of the River Junction Poets met with a few non-River Junction Poets in August of 2006 to read a few of Mr. Berry's poems, to learn a thing or two about Mr. Berry and to see what connections we could make between ourselves and the poet and the poetry. We had nine people altogether. As usual, we met at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Saginaw, Michigan at 7 p.m. We met on the occasion of Mr. Berry's birthday - ostensibly. His birthday is on the 5th, and we met instead on the 7th. Our group has an unwritten rule: we never meet on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. The 5th this year was a Saturday, so we decided to move our event to the following Monday.

While we were there, we bought and signed a birthday card for Mr. Berry. I put it in the mail the next day. We do this now for all the poets we meet for, provided the poet is still alive. Mr. Berry took a few moments from his day to write a note to my River Junction Poets friends and me. We are so enthused! His note is dated August 14th, and I received it on the 23rd. It is short and to the point:

Dear Mr. Christ: I am grateful to you and your friends for your kindness, and I send my good wishes to you all. Sincerely, (signed) Wendell Berry

I was particularly enthused for this event and remain grateful for it because I was not aware of Mr. Berry's writing until Karen Choate, one of the River Junction Poets, recommended him to us. Reading his poems with a group of people and hearing the remarks others made about him, his essays, novel and poetry gave me a lot to think about in just an hour and a half. I learned from others in the group about the revolution Berry has been interested in for so many years.
The night of the event, while we were enjoying Berry's poetry, an artist among us asked whether Berry mentions in any of his poems the struggles of the small farmer. I thought the question was a particluarly good one, and we decided that Berry has chosen to exclude from his poetry that particular strain of thought. Mr. Berry has written about the struggles of the family farm in several essays over a decades-long span. I enjoyed it when Karen pointed out and read some of Mr. Berry's better-known poems. Any time he wants to visit Saginaw, I'm sure Mr. Berry will receive a warm welcome from the River Junction Poets.

"It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued." River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kay Ryan

Kay Ryan Thinks the River Junction Poets Are Great - She Told Us So Herself

On Thursday, September 7th, 2006, I was among seven people who met to read poems by Ms. Kay Ryan. Although we live in mid-Michigan and Ms. Ryan lives in northern California, we met on the occasion of her birthday. Some of the group are regular members of the River Junction Poets, the poetry group in Saginaw (Michigan). We met at the Barnes & Noble bookstore on Tittabawassee Road. We met from 7 to 9 p.m. and learned a little about Ms. Ryan and her poetry. For instance, we learned that she enjoys teaching introductory writing at a college in northern California. We learned from Garrison Keillor's new show that she has a 'literary friendship' with Dana Gioia. And we observed that Ms. Ryan has a wide variety in her poems. Her poems sometimes have humor and sometimes they are philosophical. We read enough to see that much and more.

While we were there, we bought and signed a birthday card to send to Ms. Ryan. I took the card with me, and the next day I found her address online. I addressed the envelope and put the card in the mail. On September 15th I received a response from Ms. Ryan in my mailbox. How cool is that! Ms. Ryan addressed her card 'to the River Junction Poets c/o Andrew Christ.' She writes:

To the River Junction Poets of Saginaw - What a wonderful birthday surprise! I think you're great. Thanks. (signed) Kay Ryan 9-12-06

I particularly enjoyed that she underlined the word 'great' twice. On the other side of the card she added

'(This is a spare page from a fine-press book made by printing students in San Francisco.)'

On one side of the card is a poem titled 'Crustacean Island,' and on the other side of the card is a poem titled 'A Cat/A Future.'

Crustacean Island

There could be an island paradise
where crustaceans prevail.
Click, click, go the lobsters
with their china mitts and
articulated tails.
It would not be sad like whales
with their immense and patient sieving
and the sobering modesty
of their general way of living.
It would be an island blessed
with only cold-blooded residents
and no human angle.
It would echo with a thousand castanets
and no flamencos.

A Cat/A Future

A cat can draw
the blinds
behind her eyes
whenever she
decides. Nothing
alters in the stare
itself but she's
not there. Likewise
a future can occlude:
still sitting there,
doing nothing rude.

Thank you Kay Ryan - no longer a stranger - another friend we haven't met yet.

"It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Tess Gallagher Writes to Her Friends in Roethke Country

Little did we know when we met on the occasion of Tess Gallagher's birthday that we would one day receive such a lovely note from her. But looking back on it now, I can say that I'm pleased and not surprised.

Ms. Gallagher was here in mid-Michigan - Saginaw to be precise - a few years ago (around 2000). Al Hellus had asked her to be the featured speaker at
the annual Rouse for Roethke that Al had single-handedly created from the sparkling dust of his own imagination. As I have said elsewhere, the absence of the annual Rouse for Roethke served obliquely as inspiration for the Birthdays of Poets 'celebrations' we hold at our local Barnes & Noble bookstore.

Here in Saginaw, we were especially pleased to have Ms. Gallagher as our Featured Speaker. Saginaw, of course, was home to Theodore Roethke, the only poet from Michigan to win the Pulitzer Prize. Mr. Roethke went on to teach at several universities including The University of Washington. His students there chipped in to have a documentary film made of their beloved teacher. Ms. Gallagher was a student of Mr. Roethke's during the last semester Mr. Roethke taught. Among the things she shared with us at the aforementioned Rouse for Roethke were her memories of Mr. Roethke as an instructor of writing poetry. Using equipment from the Midland Community (public access) Television station, I recorded her presentation and later sent a copy in the mail to her.

Late in July, 2006, a group of seven of us, some of whom are members of the River Junction Poets, met at the Barnes & Noble in Saginaw, Michigan on the occasion of Ms. Gallagher's birthday. Why did we do that? One reason was that we wanted to read a few of her poems. For some of our group, that's enough of a reason right there. We enjoy listening to poetry as it is read aloud to us. We also like to learn about the poet by reading biographical information. Another reason is that we enjoy visiting with each other while we are beginning and then again while we are ending. There may be other reasons too that I haven't thought of. Anyway, on that night in July, around the time of Tess Gallagher's birthday (July 21st), as we read about Ms. Gallagher and read her poems, we circulated amongst ourselves a birthday card for her. I didn't know her address, so I called and asked Al. He said, "Sure, daddio, but don't give it out to strangers." Al's cool that way. So I folded up the Barnes & Noble store flier that had the announcement in it about the River Junction Poets' Birthday Reading of Ms. Gallagher's poetry, stuck it in the envelope with the birthday card we signed, addressed and stamped the envelope and dropped it in the mail to her. It's always fun to send these cards because we don't know whether we'll ever hear anything back from the poet. If we don't, oh well, hopefully he or she got the card anyway. As far as I know, none of the cards we've sent have come back to us. But lo! and behold! Ms. Gallagher wrote back to us!

She wrote the following note on a folded card that measures about two and a half inches by about four inches. The cover of the card shows two koi swimming beneath what look like orange roses. I suppose they could be peonies though: the stalk has thorns on it. The koi motif is repeated on the envelope. Ms. Gallagher writes:

Dear Andy and all my friends there in Roethke Country - what a delight it was to come home in August & find your dear remembrance & celebration of my birthday & poems waiting for me. I have put the notice of the occasion & the signed card in plastic for my archival binder so someone looking later will know how kind you all were to me. So thank you! Of course, Andy, I recall well your video of my time there. It was splendid!

Only news here is that my book Dear Ghosts has gone into 3rd edition since May pub date. I am about to set out on a tour to the East Coast. It runs Oct. 10 to Nov. 1st - so am hoping my stamina holds up. So far so good, re: my health. One year has passed since my mother's death. But I still miss her a lot. Ireland has been a good cure. Fond thanks, Tess

This is something else I've noticed with our group: people will come to the group and sometimes share intimate personal stories with people they've just met. And why not? We meet to enjoy poetry together. Poetry can include everything.

"It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued." River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Friday, February 15, 2008

David Budbill

David Budbill Appreciates Birthday Greetings from River Junction Poets
A few of the River Junction Poets met at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Saginaw, Michigan with other poetry lovers on June 13th, David Budbill's 46th birthday (2006). Altogether we had eleven people there that night. We read about his education in theology, about his children's books, about his being from Cleveland, about his being against war, about his taste for ancient Chinese poetry and about his life now on Judevine Mountain in Vermont. Within the space of an hour and a half or so (from 7pm to 8:30), we had plenty of time to talk about all these things and also to read poems by him from his book While We've Still Got Feet. We found that we liked his poems when they're read a little more slowly than the average speed of conversation. We found the poems very accessible, and a quick reading seems a disservice to them.

While we were together at the bookstore on his birthday, we circulated amongst ourselves a birthday card which we all signed and wrote a few comments on. We sent this birthday greeting to Mr. Budbill in the next few days. Since we didn't have his home address, I decided to search for his address online. I didn't find his address, but I did find the address of the Galaxy Bookshop. The Galaxy is Mr. Budbill's local bookstore and, according to their website, they are Mr. Budbill's favorite.

On Saturday, August 18, 2006, I had the keen surprise of finding in my mailbox a letter postmarked Burlington, Vermont and having the return address of Mr. David Budbill! It was quite thick, so of course I immediately began wondering what could be contained within it.

Mr. Budbill writes: Dear Andrew Christ and all the other River Junction Poets! Thank you all so much for your Birthday Reading for me. What a treat it was to get your card. I only got it now -- two months late -- because the Galaxy Bookshop -- my local bookstore -- just now remembered to give it to me. Thanks again to all of you for your graciousness. Sincerely, (signed) David Budbill

The note is written on heavy stock paper, a folded card with a drawing of a moon or sun above pine trees on what looks like a mountain on the front. The drawing was done by his wife, Lois Eby. Inside the card is printed Mr. Budbill's poem, 'Heaven.' The poem and the drawing are both copyright 2005. Also in the card were Mr. Budbill's business card and a blank postcard which we can use to tell a friend about Mr. Budbill's books from Copper Canyon Press, Moment to Moment and While We've Still Got Feet.

In addition to the card and its contents, Mr. Budbill included advertisements for his CDs. On Songs for a Suffering World, Mr. Budbill performs with 'renown bassist' William Parker and 'international drumming sensation' Hamid Drake. On Zen Mountains/Zen Streets, Mr. Budbill and Mr. Parker join forces once again to hammer out the brilliancies. Find out more about it at

Finally, along with all these other things, Mr. Budbill packed in a copy of the first two dozen or so pages of the March 2004 issue of The Sun. This particular issue contains eight of Mr. Budbill's poems and an interview with Mr. Budbill by Diana Schmitt. Among the many interesting thoughts emerging from that interview, I found the following: in a time of war, little poems 'about birds and trees and loneliness and sex and food and joy' are 'weapons in the war for human kindness.'

If you haven't yet, find Mr. Budbill's poems and read them. The world will be changed forever.

"It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued." River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Linda Pastan sends Best Wishes and a Poem to the River Junction Poets
Our Newsletter editor, Pat, recommended in April (2006) that we read Ms. Pastan's poetry at one of our Birthday Poetry events. Late in May, around the time of Ms. Pastan's birthday, nine River Junction Poets met to read poetry she had written. She lives in Maryland, but our group has decided it's fun to meet on the occasion of poets' birthdays and read poetry by them. We met at the Barnes & Noble in Saginaw (Michigan). We enjoyed her poems, and in particular the 'accessible' quality of them. We also enjoyed learning a little more about her - we learned, for instance, that she served as Poet Laureate of Maryland.

I was particularly glad to find this poet. I had not known of her poems before. It was a nice surprise for me to see on the cover of one of her books a comment by William Stafford, one of my favorite poets.

In addition to reading her poems, we bought a birthday card, signed it and mailed it to the addess Pat, our Newsletter editor, had. Ms. Pastan wrote back immediately with warmth and kindness:

Dear River Junction Poets,
What a lovely surprise your card and comments were! Sometimes I forget there is anybody out there reading my poems -- with thanks and best wishes!
Linda Pastan
Are you anywhere near Grand Rapids? I'll be reading there in March -- And I have a new book, Queen of a Rainy Country, due in the fall.

Ms. Pastan wrote her response on the back of a proof of an older poem of hers, to be published 'in a forthcoming issue of MSS.' Here's the poem:

At My Window

I have thought much
about snow,
the mute pilgrimage
of all those flakes,
and about the dark wanderings
of leaves.

I have stalked
all four seasons
and seen how they beat
the same path
through the same woods
again and again.

I used to make a multitude
of trains, trusting
the strategy of tracks,
of distance.
I sailed on ships
trusting the arbitrary north.

Now I stand still
at my window
watching the snow
which knows only one direction,
falling in silence
towards silence.

Pat included Ms. Pastan's response to the birthday card in the River Junction Poets Newsletter. We hope to receive more responses from other poets as a result of this fun activity which brings us closer together, broadens our metaphorical horizons and connects us in a poetical sense to friends we haven't met in person.

We thought it was particularly delightful to receive the note from Ms. Pastan early in June (2006), so soon after we had sent the birthday card, and then on June 8th to hear Garrison Keillor read a poem by Ms. Pastan on his daily radio show 'The Writer's Almanac.' He read her poem 'After an Absence.' Coincidences can so tickle the cranium!

To update this story, I wrote to ask Ms. Pastan specifically where and when in Grand Rapids (MI) she will be reading. She will be reading at
Aquinas College in Grand Rapids on Tuesday, March 20 (2007) at 7:30p.m. Hopefully a few of us River Junction Poets will be able to travel to Grand Rapids to hear her read then.

And now for another update: in my kitchen, I have a poster measuring ~11x14 inches announcing Ms. Pastan's reading at the Wege Ballroom. I drove to Grand Rapids with Sandy and Marion for the occasion. Sandy teaches English at
Central Michigan University and Marion is a tireless advocate for poetry in Saginaw, Michigan. In fact, she is one of the founding members of Saginaw's poetry group, the River Junction Poets.

Pam Luebke of Aquinas College and Ms. Pastan allowed me to videotape Ms. Pastan that evening. I am glad to have the event captured digitally because I have never personally witnessed so many people at a poetry reading. Apparently some of the teachers at Aquinas expected to see their students there. After I do some editing, the video will run on Midland, Michigan's public-access television station,
MCTV-3. I will also send a copy to Ms. Pastan.
UPDATE: Unfortunately, the audio recording of this event was of such a poor quality that the video production was scuppered.

"It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued." River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Rita Dove

Rita Dove sends Best Wishes to the River Junction Poets

In August (2005) thirteen of us met at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Saginaw, Michigan to read poetry by Rita Dove on the occasion of her birthday. During our time together, Pat, our Newsletter editor, said, "I wonder what she's doing to celebrate her birthday?" A few comments were made, and then Pat said, "Why don't we send her a birthday card?" So we did something we had never done before: Pat bought a birthday card, everyone signed it, and then Pat mailed it to Ms. Dove's publisher who forwarded it to Ms. Dove. Pat must have included the P.O. Box number of the River Junction Poets, because that is the address Ms. Dove sent her response to. We received a note from her in September of 2005. Here's what she wrote:

Dear River Junction Poets,
What a surprise to receive a birthday card from all of you! This has never happened to me before; it's such a sweet gesture.
It must feel terrific to be part of a group of like-minded people who gather to discuss each other's poetic efforts -- I think it's the best way to hone your craft and find your own voice. To have such a group of serious poets read and discuss my work is an honor. Thank you for marking my birthday as you did, and thank you for letting me know about it! Your card is propped up on my desk, where I can look at it and smile.
Best wishes to you,
Rita Dove

We were thrilled to receive any response at all from such a highly esteemed and accomplished poet. The fact that she served as U.S. Poet Laureate came up during our time together. Pat quoted her note to us in the River Junction Poets Newsletter. That Ms. Dove responded with such warmth was just beyond our expectations. Ms. Dove's thoughtful response has encouraged us to send birthday cards to all the living poets whose birthdays and poetry we celebrate.

"It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Lisel Mueller

In attendance at our Lisel Mueller event were Wilma and her husband David, both retired English teachers, and Maureen. Among the things we talked about was Harold Bloom and his book Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. I said the thesis of his book is that, prior to Shakespeare, no literature featured characters with such insightful psychological portrayals. Here is a sentence from that book: "Personality, in our sense, is a Shakespearean invention, and is not only Shakespeare's greatest originality but also the authentic cause of his perpetual pervasiveness." Wilma pointed out that, prior to Shakespeare, societies were structured so that people more often than not behaved according to the roles expected of them. What she said made sense. I then made a remark about our times today as we are able to choose among lifestyles. This is only one of the reasons I love to keep going back for these events: I never know when I'm going to hear a perspective I haven't heard before. It's such a gift, and I like to think it keeps on giving. What makes this particular conversation even more memorable for me is that this was Wilma's first time joining our group. Hopefully we see her and her husband Dave again and often.

Lisel Mueller

-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
River Junction Poets Mission Statement
The following is the e-mail reminder regarding our Skip Renker celebration:

On Tuesday, February 5th, four of us met at the Barnes & Noble Bookseller on Tittabawassee Road in Saginaw, MI to enjoy the poetry of Lisel Mueller out loud. I joined Mr. and Mrs. David Romatz and Maureen and we talked about Lisel Mueller and her life, and we read a few of her poems. We signed a store flier for the River Junction Poets’ ‘history’ section, and we sent another store flier with a birthday card to Ms. Mueller c/o the Poetry Center of Chicago, 37 South Wabash Avenue, Chicago, IL 60603. (The flier mentions the Lisel Mueller event hosted by the River Junction Poets.) Maybe Ms. Mueller will write back.

Now, a few words for the 98+% of people who receive this e-mail and will NOT, due to ongoing conflict(s) with the space/time continuum, be joining us at the Barnes & Noble in Saginaw, MI this Thursday night: Steal this idea! Start a Birthdays of Poets Reader’s Workshop in your area. Research shows that better readers make better writers.

This week we have a poet joining our group in the flesh! Yes! Our poet teaches at Delta College and has a book titled ‘Sifting the Visible’ which is available now from the publisher, Mayapple Press . If you haven’t had a chance to meet Skip Renker then come on out on Valentine’s Day 2008 and say hello. We’ll be able to ask him questions and hear a few of his poems.

A poetical celebration of Skip Renker’s birth and poetry.

Thursday, February 14, 2008 at 7:00 PM

Barnes & Noble Bookseller
3311 Tittabawassee Rd.
Saginaw , MI 48603
989 790 9214

Who should come
Join us if you love poetry or are curious as to what poetry is all about. Join us if you'd like to talk to people whose hearts and minds are more open than closed. Join us if you can agree or disagree with someone's opinion respectfully. Join us if you’re not afraid that Cupid might show up and shoot you in the back.

Find out what poems sound like out loud. Listen in on the group and then find a place where you can jump in and read something yourself. Join in our informal discussion of poems we know and love and poems we are only just discovering. Speak up now and forever share your peace. Better readers make better writers.

How to find the organizer(s)
We are in the Poetry section, near the window. The staff at Barnes & Noble will put up a sign that says 'This space reserved for The River Junction Poets at 7 p.m.' We'll be getting a few folding chairs to add around the table there.

Skip Renker teaches at Delta College in Central Michigan. He is the author of the chapbooks Birds of Passage and Sifting the Visible.

Skip Renker's poems are grounded, quiet and elegant, reflecting the thoughtful, humorous and meditative style of the man himself.

Fierce Talisman
by Skip Renker

Sooner or later you will need me.
You'll be lost. Unfamiliar
trees, thick waxy leaves, a sound
like crying when the wind
kicks up. Press your back
to a trunk. Hold me

to your face with a light
but firm grip, leave
the feathers free. Turn me around
three times. Your body
still stands, but that other
you enters me. Use my eyes,

black blossoms on short stalks,
to see with. Fly up
through the leaves, which close
around your wrists and ankles,
your neck. You must
push through their cries, until

you're above the forest in the dark,
black wings beating in rhythm
with the movement of the stars.
The dried branches you hold
catch fire. By its light
you might be free, but first

you must burn something, you must.
fly low over the long dry grass.

From accessed 1/3/08.

While you and I may not have met in person, I have added your e-mail address to the growing list of people known to have an interest in poetry. Did you know? Research indicates that better readers make better writers. Maybe this is why, in the Poet's Market, editors of literary magazines often recommend poets read more poetry.

Legal stuff: Your e-mail address will not be sold or used by me for any purpose other than to contact you regarding these special events. If you prefer to not receive these messages, reply to this e-mail address and include the word ‘unsubscribe’ in the text of your message.

Are you not aware? You are a cultural event, and so is everyone else. Exercise your cultural inventiveness at Saginaw’s Birthdays of Poets Reader’s Workshop. If you have a smile to share be sure to bring it. If you don't, be sure to join us so you'll have one afterward!

Thank you and may God continue to bless us mightily one and all. Be sure to thank a veteran for his/her service. Remember: only you can improve the audience for poetry. Please read, discuss and share responsibly. And vote.

All best and see you Thursday,
Andy Christ

Sunday, February 03, 2008

This was us on January 16th, 2008. We met at the Barnes & Noble bookstore on Tittabawassee Road in Saginaw, MI to read poems by Philip Levine. We talked about him and his work, the Spanish Civil War, ourselves, you name it. And isn't that the hallmark of great poetry? It includes everything. Nothing is out of reach for great poetry.

Click the picture to see a larger version of it.
Left to right: Andy, Marion, Maureen, Bev, Roz.
Photographer: anonymous fellow citizen
Guess which three are River Junction Poets?

"It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued." River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Good Woman

When James Aloysius McGillicuddy
had killed the woman he loved
and refused to talk about it
he found himself making explanations
to himself:
"She could change herself
into a bubble for me to play with.
'I'll be your bubble' she says to me
'kiss me kick me kill me
break me like a big rainbow bubble
I shall be light for you
light as a lingering loving bubble
take me throw me handle me with care
or finger me like a fool
and see me vanish before your eyes.'"

And after thus quoting the woman he had killed
James Aloysius McGillicuddy began wondering to himself
whether she had talked like that so fierce so funny
whether he was imagining things after the excitement
of sending a slug of lead into a woman's bosom and yet
he swore to himself:
"She was a bubble she told me
she was a bubble made for me
and nobody else and I could
make her or break her
and why the hell I broke her
I dont [sic] know
she was a goddam good woman
I dont [sic] know why it happened
she was such a goddam good woman."

Carl Sandburg
from Poems for the People published by Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 1999.
'Good Woman' was written when Sandburg lived in Chicago and worked as a journalist for The Day Book and Daily News.

I'm including this poem here because I like the omniscience of the narrator as it plays against the ignorance of McGillicuddy. Also because it reminds me of poems in the Spoon River Anthology. Maybe Edgar Lee Masters unwittingly helped Sandburg become what some regard as an urban Walt Whitman.