Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Mayor reads "The Saginaw Song" as his hometown celebrates poet Theodore Roethke's 100th birthday
by Janet Martineau | The Saginaw News
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.
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."
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.