Saturday, May 31, 2008

This Is A Wonderful Poem

This is a Wonderful Poem
Come at it carefully, don't trust it, that isn't its right name,
It's wearing stolen rags, it's never been washed, its breath
Would look moss-green if it were really breathing,
It won't get out of the way, it stares at you
Out of eyes burnt gray as the sidewalk,
Its skin is overcast with colorless dirt,
It has no distinguishing marks, no I.D. cards,
It wants something of yours but hasn't decided
Whether to ask for it or just take it,
There are no policemen, no friendly neighbors,
No peacekeeping busybodies to yell for, only this
Thing standing between you and the place you were headed,
You have about thirty seconds to get past it, around it,
Or simply to back away and try to forget it,
It won't take no for an answer: try hitting it first
And you'll learn what's trembling in its torn pocket.
Now, what do you want to do about it?
From  accessed 5/31/08.

I smiled when I read this poem for the first time. I'm trying to decide if David Wagoner has taken
any risks in this poem. The tone of this poem is something like menace: “Come at it carefully, don't
trust it...”  “It won't get out of the way...” “It wants something of yours but hasn't decided/Whether to
ask for it or just take it...” “It won't take no for an answer...” “What do you want to do about it?” This
poem reminds me of a skit I saw in which a girl talks to a guy who isn't interested in talking to her.
She wants to know what he likes to do for fun, she tells him she could have any guy in this place,
she wants to know if he'll dance with her, she wants to know if he's gay, she asks him what's wrong
with you, etc. The guy doesn't have much to say. He's not interested in her. She gets in his face
much like this poem is getting in the face of the reader. So yes, Wagoner has taken the risk of
appearing to be anti-social with this poem. In the fourth-to-last line, the “simply” doesn't need to
be there. The “try to” doesn't need to be there either. The line could be “Or back away and forget
it...” Wagoner may be making some subtle assertions here about his expectations of the reading
ability of the average person and the way memory works. The poem wouldn't lose anything in my
estimation if he took out “try hitting it first/And you'll learn what's trembling in its torn pocket.”
Clearly he's having fun with this poem. The poem describes itself as something that is alive but
does not anthropomorphize: the poem doesn't breathe. And there is another risk: the risk of the
poem explaining itself. A good poem does not explain itself. This poem describes itself in a
nebulous way and not in an explicit way, so it doesn't really explain itself. It does talk about what
it's doing, as though it is self-aware. So there's a cleverness here because a poem is only capable
of doing what the reader will allow it to do, and this poem describes itself as alive and waiting for
the reader to decide what to do about it. Of course, the poem can at best only be metaphorically
alive, and that could only happen with an indulging, generous, intelligent reader. And now we have
an irony: the tone of voice in the poem is one that would attenuate any desire in the reader to be
indulgent or generous toward the poem. But that is exactly what's needed for the poem to “live.”
Here we have a “wonderful” poem that is clever and amusing and I would say memorable as well.
Because I smiled when I read this poem, I know I will remember it. A smile is a visceral reaction,
is it not? He got me.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Salmon by Kim Addonizio

Salmon by Kim Addonizio
In this shallow creek
they flop and writhe forward as the dead
float back toward them. Oh, I know
what I should say: fierce burning in the body
as her eggs burst free, milky cloud
of sperm as he quickens them. I should stand
on the bridge with my camera,
frame the white froth of rapids where one
arcs up for an instant in its final grace.
But I have to go down among
the rocks the glacier left
and squat at the edge of the water
where a stinking pile of them lies,
where one crow balances and sinks
its beak into a gelid eye.
I have to study the small holes
gouged into their skin, their useless gills,
their gowns of black flies. I can't
make them sing. I want to,
but all they do is open
their mouths a little wider
so the water pours in
until I feel like I'm drowning.
On the bridge the tour bus waits
and someone waves, and calls down
It's time, and the current keeps lifting
dirt from the bottom to cover the eggs.

From Tell Me by Kim Addonizio. Copyright © 2000 by Kim Addonizio. Reprinted by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. All rights reserved. From accessed 5/29/08

Despite what you may hear in the speaker's tone of voice, this is a poem of hopeful expectation. "Blessed are those who have not seen but believe." I have a copy of Tell Me but I don't remember this poem as being in there. I'm glad to see this at To give you an idea what a poetry geek I am, I mailed my copy of Tell Me to Ms. Addonizio in California from my home in Saginaw (Michigan, where I was living at the time) to ask her to sign it. That was several years ago already. She signed the title page “For Andy who knows how to pass it on. With thanks and good wishes, Kim”' and on the next page she signed her full name. Then she sent it back to me in the self-addressed, postage-paid envelope I included. Yay autographs!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Roethke's 100th Birthday Saginaw News Article

Mayor reads "The Saginaw Song" as his hometown celebrates poet Theodore Roethke's 100th birthday

by Janet Martineau | The Saginaw News
Sunday May 25, 2008, 10:19 PM

Of all the sights and sounds on Sunday, collectively celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birthday, Theodore Roethke would have most thoroughly enjoyed a moment occurring on the windy apex of the Court Street Bridge.
Dressed in a lime green dress, perched on the back seat of a red Mustang convertible, juggling a dozen roses given as a gift, Saginaw Mayor Joyce Seals read Roethke's "The Saginaw Song" in all its glorious earthiness.

Saginaw Mayor Joyce Seals reads aloud a poem by Saginaw native and poet Theodore Roethke atop the Court Street Bridge while onlookers listen Sunday afternoon.

This is not a sweet and tender poem. Rather, its humor does not mince words about bodily functions, bartenders, the Morleys and the Burrows, and messy Swan Creek.
And the mayor, with a camera running from Midland's MCTV cable channel, read all of it with great aplomb and gusto. Nor was she done.
"I've been working on my poetry," said she -- and then she read two more as boats cruised by underneath, their occupants waving to the poetry-loving gathering of 30 on that bridge closed to traffic for an hour to honor a native son who in 1954 won a Pulitzer Prize in poetry.
Six people in all read Roethke poems on the bridge -- fanciful ones for children, a couple recalling his father's greenhouse business and others about love.
Later, at dinner, Milford poet Thomas Lynch, one of those readers on the bridge, remarked, "That you can close a bridge in middle Michigan for his birthday makes up for that little stone on his grave (in Oakwood Cemetery). Roethke is better known in England and Ireland than in America, but what you are doing here will rectify that in time."
The turn-out for the day-long festivities celebrating the life of Roethke, who died in 1963 at age 55, may have been on the small side -- never reaching more than 40 at one time.
But, as Bay City poet Judith Kerman noted, "It's not unusual to attend poetry events where the poets outnumber the audience."
Carnations stand while Andrew V. Christ, 41, of Midland reads aloud a poem by Saginaw native and poet Theodore Roethke. Carnations were used in the celebration of Roethke as many of his poems are related to plants and flowers. Roethke also wrote a poem about a carnation.
Marilyn Taipale of Bridgeport said she read about the event in the paper "and thought, 'This is a local poet, I need to become familiar with him.'"
She showed up at the Andersen Enrichment Center, 120 Ezra Rust, promptly at 1 p.m. to hear a variety of people reading Roethke's poems and to watch parts of two videos about him.
"I enjoyed it. I was impressed," she said as she thumbed through a copy of his collected works she had purchased.
Also inside at Andersen, White Pine Middle School teacher Peggy Conlin oversaw an activity table for youngsters who were given Roethke poems and art materials to turn them into reality
Wooden sticks and pieces of yarn created his "Snake" while flat and plain stones decorated with shells, pine cones, vines, sequins and googly eyes made "Dinky" a reality.
"Once they get started it's tough for their parents to get them to leave," observed Conlin.
Rachael Walsh of Bay City spent the day handing out Roethke poems from a Roethke poetry bag -- encouraging those who fished them out to read them on the spot.
Bridge walk over, but not yet the appointed time for dinner at Jake's Old City Grill, 100 S. Hamilton, she handed a few out at the nearby Red Eye coffee house -- where a 20ish man, clad in a red Spider-Man T-shirt, gamely read "The Dream."
Listening were Phyllis and Bob Hastlings, taking in the entire Roethke day on their bicycles -- a 15-mile round-trip in all, she estimated, since they'd ridden to church first. Both were dressed in their Sunday finest, capped off with bike helmets.
At Jake's, as 36 people gathered to dine on some of Roethke's favorite foods, Friends of Theodore Roethke Foundation Director Annie Ransford read a letter from Roethke's window, remarried and living in England.
"This is a great occasion. I am sorry not to be here and even sorrier Ted is not here," Beatrice Roethke Lushington wrote. "He would have been amused, astonished and deeply touched that people in Saginaw are celebrating his birthday.
"I am always impressed by the community spirit in Saginaw, especially in this 'dark time' in Michigan. Thank you for coming, and enjoy your dinner."
Roethke, whose mother was a fantastic cook, always rated Beatrice on the meals she prepared "and she never got over a B from him," said Ransford as the gathering groaned amid prime rib, ice cream sundaes, martinis and a birthday cake.
And then, taking their cue from Mayor Seals, the gathering read "The Saginaw Song" in unison.

Author and poet Thomas Lynch of Milford reads a poem by Theodore Roethke.
Article published in The Saginaw News, May 26, 2008. Available online at accessed 5/27/08.

This picture was in the May 26, 2008 issue of The Saginaw News too. I'm looking pretty studly there with Roethke's Collected Poems in my hands, reading on the Court Street bridge, don't you think? Thank you Bob Enszer for scanning & sending this to me.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Maybe Dats Youwr Pwoblem Too

Maybe Dats Youwr Pwoblem Too
by Jim Hall

All my pwoblems
who knows, maybe evwybody's pwoblems
is due to da fact, due to da awful twuth

I know, I know. All da dumb jokes:

No flies on you, ha ha,

and da ones about what do I do wit all
doze extwa legs in bed. Well, dat's funny yeah.
But you twy being SPIDERMAN for a month or two. Go ahead.

You get doze cwazy calls fwom da
Gubbener askin you to twap some booglar who's
only twying to wip off color T.V. sets.

Now, what do I cawre about T.V. sets?
But I pull on da suit, da stinkin suit,
wit da sucker cups on da fingers,

and get my wopes and wittle bundle of

equipment and den I go flying like cwazy

acwoss da town fwom woof top to woof top.

Till der he is, some poor dumb color T.V. slob
and I fall on him and we westle a widdle

until I get him all woped. So big deal.

You tink when you SPIDERMAN

der's sometin big going to happen to you.

Well, I tell you what. It don't happen dat way.
Nuttin happens. Cubbener calls, I go.

Bwing him to powice. Gubbener calls again,

like dat over and over.

I tink I twy sometin diffunt. I tink I twy
sometin excitin like wacing cawrs. Sometin to make
my heart beat at a difwent wate.

But den you just can't quit being sometin like

SPIDERMAN. You SPIDERMAN for life. Fowever. I can't even
buin my suit. It won't buin. It's fwame wesistant.
So maybe dat's youwr pwoblem too, who knows.

So maybe dat's da whole pwoblem wif evwytin.
Nobody can buin der suits, day all fwame wesistent.

Who knows?

I found this poem, one of my favorites, in a book I bought for an undergraduate poetry class at Bowling Green State University (in Bowling Green, Ohio). The book is titled Writing Poems, and it is credited to Robert Wallace. X.J. Kennedy wrote the foreword to it. You can see this poem at Jim Hall's website.

I remember this poem because it made me laugh the first time or two I read it and because it is so existential. After a while it dawned on me that the speaker has perhaps overlooked something. If he has to pull his suit on then presumably at some point he has taken his suit off. So what if it won't buin? He can give or sell it to someone else. Or he can simply refuse to put it on.

Another way of reading this poem is to consider the suit as a metaphor for the authentic self. The tone of the poem indicates that we cannot choose to be inauthentic. When the speaker is in his suit, he is his authentic self, but no one can know him then. So there's an irony there. Unless he is his authentic self when he is not wearing the suit, in which case we want to ask why he would put the suit on and leave his authentic self.

At first I thought that, to consider the speaker's authentic self is to bring something of our own to the poem. But I think that Jim Hall put clues in the poem about 'the authentic self.' In lines three and four, the speaker tells us that it's a fact, in fact it's an 'awful twuth' that he is SPIDERMAN. Then again, in the last stanza, this line of thinking returns: '
But den you just can't quit being sometin like SPIDERMAN. You SPIDERMAN for life. Fowever.' There's a somewhat stoic resignation and acceptance of this 'awful twuth,' and of course the suit won't buin. Why he can't get another suit and stop putting this one on is something we're left to wonder. It's a poem by a beginning poet, and it's a humorous poem for beginning and advanced readers. When I read this poem at a River Junction Poets meeting, Celeste, a speech therapist in our group, said she could help him out with his 'pwoblem.' Ha ha ha

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Ted

My friends Bob and Ruth Enszer. Bob is retired from teaching chemistry at Arthur Hill High School in Saginaw, and Ruth works at a hospital where she does nursing. I met Bob when I taught chemistry at Saginaw High, the other public high school in Saginaw. Bob retired in 2000. He graciously allowed me the use of his digital camera today. And he bought two of my books. Yay!

Annie Ransford. She teaches English at Caro High School, and she was instrumental in securing the Roethke properties for posterity. She helped to found the Friends of Theodore Roethke Foundation which owns the Carl Roethke and the Otto Roethke homes. She organized the events that we enjoyed today in celebrating the 100th anniversary of Theodore Roethke's birth.

The Andersen Enrichment Center where, for two hours, we read poems by Theodore Roethke. Also, two videos were shown in the Enrichment Center: In a Dark Time which was made in the 60s, and Where Do the Roots Go? which was made in the 90s.

Linda is standing on the left and welcoming folks to the Enrichment Center. Mayor Seals (seated) is enjoying the festive atmosphere with her husband Eugene who just made it into the picture on the right. I taught their son Eugene chemistry at Saginaw High School. Mayor Seals told me her son is now going to be Director of Public Services in Buena Vista.

As you enter the Enrichment Center, you are greeted by the Welcoming Desk full of Roethke poems which are meant to be stuffed in your pockets.

A view from behind the Enrichment Center. The swans are a Marshall Fredericks sculpture. You can see more of them online at the SVSU website.

Tim Ross of Bridgeport. His passion is astronomy; he was looking for sun spots today. Don't know if he found any! He plays guitar & sings too, besides writing poetry.

Dave Romatz, retired English teacher. His wife Wilma is also a retired English teacher. She had with her a video camera from Midland Community Television, the public-access TV station in Midland, Michigan. She was running around getting footage here and there throughout the festivities.

Bill's wife Marie wrote a book of poems which he has in front of him here. Marie read 'Meadow Mouse' in the Enrichment Center after she told us the story of when she was a girl her mother wouldn't let her in the house until she had gotten rid of the mouse she had found.

Poetry people from Michigan State University. The Center for Poetry there is a new thing. Their e-mail is Sorry I don't remember their names better.

Roz Berlin with her mother Agnes' book of poems for sale. That is Tim's guitar next to her.

Marc Beaudoin who has written a novel, a book of poems, and at least one play. He directed the performance of 'Amadeus' at the Pit & Balcony Theater later this same day.

John Palen, a poet, journalist, and retired journalism teacher, among other things. You can find his books at Mayapple Press.

Rachel. She took a lot of pictures with what looked to me like a very nice camera.

Phyllis Hastings, Ph.D. She teaches poetry to inmates at the Saginaw Correctional Facility in Freeland and also to college undergrads at SVSU. In the summer of 2005, Marion and I taught at the correctional facility with her.

Betty van Ochten, a River Junction Poet for several years. She edits our Newsletter now.

Judy Kerman, owner of Mayapple Press. She conducts an informal poetry workshop at Barnes & Noble in Saginaw on the 2nd Monday of each month.

Joe Muenzer, another long-time River Junction Poet. He read a poem by Roethke titled 'Lull,' which was written in 1939. Joe, a retired professor of philosophy at John Carroll near Cleveland, made a few remarks about the poem. It's one of the few in which Roethke even approaches the idea of writing anything remotely political.

Ruth Averill (sp?)

Rosalie Reigle. She's retired from teaching in the English Department at SVSU, and she lives near Chicago now. She worked at the Mustard Seed Catholic Worker house in Saginaw, which was later renamed the Jeanine House.

Roz Berlin, another River Junction Poet. Retired from teaching art in public schools.

Ron Maxwell read 'The Bat.'

Marie read 'Meadow Mouse.'

Pat Yockey, an artist and a poet.


Stephen (Steven?) read the first part of 'The Lost Son' after sharing with us that he walked to Saginaw from Toledo after reading a few Roethke poems in a public library there. Nice pilgrimage.

Marion Tincknell, latest and greatest recipient of Saginaw's All-Area Arts Award. She is a founding member of the River Junction Poets and remains a pillar of our community as well as, with her husband Les, the greater Saginaw community.

Arts Activist Al Hellus. For ten years or so he organized Saginaw's Poetry Slams, and for ten years he organized the annual Rouse for Roethke in which volunteers read all of Roethke's poems (an event which takes about six hours to complete). He has a new book of poems out by Ridgeway Press.

Carol Lopez, former Treasurer for River Junction Poets.

Jim Piazza, an attorney in Saginaw.

Carnations provided by? There are three more like these on the other side of the podium.

Some of my stuff. The t-shirt says 'Center for Poetry;' the tote bag says, 'What we need is more people who specialize in the impossible,' and underneath that it says Theodore Roethke and then underneath that it says PoetsHouse. The book is Straw for the Fire, and the posters indicate events in Lansing next Fall.

After reading poems for two hours in the Enrichment Center, we headed up to the apex of the Court Street bridge for a few more poems. Annie is walking next to the car; her daughter is driving. Mayor Seals is reading 'The Saginaw Song,' and Marion is in the passenger seat.

Les Tincknell, on the left, designed the Andersen Enrichment Center. That worked out well since he's an architect. Tom Lynch, on the right, is a writer and an undertaker in Michigan. He read a few Roethke poems on the bridge with us.

Annie read two or three poems as well. One she read to her daughter but I don't remember which one. It mentioned an old maid though.

The Court Street bridge as seen from a bank of the Saginaw River.

A closer look at the bridge. See those wooden pylons sticking up in front of the concrete supports? I'd like to have small ones like that in my yard. I'd connect the tops of them with thick rope.

Roethke went to elementary school at John Moore Elementary, but it wasn't this one. The one he went to was at another location in Saginaw. This one was built in the 60s.

Across the street from the John Moore Elementary School is the First Presbyterian Church. This is where the Roethke's went to church. Ted took his sister June to Sunday School until it was nearly time for him to go to college.

This marker is in front of the Otto Roethke House.

This is the other side of the marker.

The Carl Roethke House.

The Otto Roethke House.

The Carl Roethke House is on the left and the Otto Roethke House is on the right.

The entrance to the Oakwood Cemetery where the Roethkes are buried.

Otto Roethke's gravestone.

Helen Roethke's gravestone.

Theodore Roethke's gravestone.

June Roethke's gravestone.

The Roethke Family gravestones.

Two big oak trees near the entrance to the Oakwood Cemetery.

All these pictures I took myself on the day of this celebration of Roethke and his poems.