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

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