Sunday, May 15, 2011

Roethke poetry prize increased to $10,000 as one of his students and his widow journey to Saginaw to celebrate his birthday

by Janet I. Martineau
 A meeting across decades and miles takes place in Saginaw this coming week during the annual celebration honoring the May 25, 1908, birth of Theodore Roethke -- a Pulitzer-winning poet who was born and raised in Saginaw and whose works are in textbooks and anthologies worldwide.
Tess Gallagher, a student in Roethke’s last class at the University of Washington in Seattle, and Beatrice Roethke Lushington, the poet’s widow, will both attend a  Saturday, May 21, birthday dinner at the Montague Inn, 1581 S. Washington in Saginaw. Roethke died in 1963.
Theodore Roethke in his boyhood home in Saginaw
Gallagher, 67, is a prize-winning poet herself and lives in Port Angeles, Wash. She will lead a writing workshop during her visit to Saginaw as well as read from her works after the dinner at the Montague. And Lushington, 85,  is making the trip with her husband and a stepdaughter from their home in England.
“Tess and Bea have never met, so it will be especially wonderful to witness their greetings and hear their stories,”  says Annie Ransford, the president of the Friends of Theodore  Roethke Foundation which maintains his boyhood home at 1805 Gratiot. 
“Beatrice will attend some of the other events we are planning depending on her energy level, but she will definitely attend the dinner at the Montague.”
In other Roethke-releated news, Saginaw Valley State University has announced that the Triennial Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize it oversees has this year significantly increased the monetary part of the award bestowed every three years -- from $3,000 to $10,000.
“The amount of the prize has been $3,00 since it was first established in 1967,” says Carlos Ramet, the executive director of public affairs at SVSU. “At that time, one could buy a new Cadillac for that amount.
“There has been a desire for several years to increase the amount of the prize to bring it more in line with other national poetry prizes and what speakers receive, and this year the SVSU Board of Fellows agreed to sponsor raising it to $10,000 from its discretionary fund.”
In subsequent years, Ramet said, the $10,000 stipend will come from a $500,000 Roethke Prize endowment fund campaign which is being launched this year. The prize will be awarded on the night of  Tuesday, Nov. 15,  during a week-long Theodore Roethke Poetry and Arts Festival sponsored by SVSU. The winning poet has not yet been chosen by a panel of three national poets.
As for this week’s birthday events sponsored by the Friends of Theodore Roethke, they include:
-- Friday, May 20, a Traveling Rouse for Roethke with poets reading from his collected works 1-4:30 p.m. in the back yard of his boyhood home, from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at his gravesite in Oakwood Cemetery in Saginaw Township, and starting at 7 p.m. along Hamilton Street in Old Saginaw City and its Perry’s Schuch Hotel, Jake’s Old City Grill and Red Eye Cafe.
Cover of collected works
Among the reading poets are members of the River Junction Poets, Rosalie Riegle, Rosie King, Charles Davenport, Robert Fanning and Jean Anaporte-Easton. Admission is free to those who wish to hear the readings.
-- 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, May 21, writing workshop with Gallagher at 1805 Gratiot. Cost $15.
-- 1-3:45 p.m. Saturday, May 21, at the Montague Inn, Michigan poets Patricia Clark, Loa Greenwell, William Olsen, Matthew Olzmann, Arra Lynn Ross and Keith Taylor reading from their works. Free.
-- 5-8 p.m. Saturday, May 21, at the Montague, the birthday buffet dinner and reading by Gallagher. On the menu is chicken boursin with artichoke and mushrooms, statler marinated salmon with fine herb cream sauce, caesar salad, vegetables and birthday cake. Cost $75.

-- 1-3:30 p.m, Sunday, May 22, at the Andersen Enrichment Center, 120 Ezra Rust, Michigan poets Robert Fanning, Jason Kahler, Judith Kerman, Larry Levy, Jodi Ann Stevenson and Qiana Towns reading from their works; showing of three Roethke films; display of student art work based on one of Roethke’s poems, and ice cream and cake. Free.
For the reservations to the writing workshop and the dinner at the Montague, contact
The SVSU Roethke Festival runs Saturday, Nov. 12, through Wednesday, Nov, 16, and in addition to the awarding of the the $10,000 prize on  Nov, 15 the festivities also include a poetry slam at SVSU, a “Haunts of Roethke” tour through Saginaw, a concert at First Presbyterian Church in Bay City, a private and a public dinner, a poetry reading in the greenhouse at Dow Gardens in Midland, and a wine tasting and poetry reading at Creative 360 in Midland.
SVSU also maintains the Roethke archives, to which his widow has contributed generously.


  1. It's my understanding that the poetry reading Saturday at the Montague is not free, as state above, but part of the $75 charge for the dinner that follows. Just a note. I could be wrong about this but I suggest someone check it out before assuming no charge.

  2. Janet, I am hoping you will write more about the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize. Will it be open to amateur poets? Who exactly is considered for this award? Can any amateur poet apply? etc etc.

  3. Mary...I have written about the Roethke Poetry Prize in an earlier blog. In a nutshell: No one applies. The poet laureate of the U.S. chooses three nationally known poet/judges who then determine a winner from the works of living published/professional poets whose works they know about. They get copies of their most recent books to read and discuss; usually the book that wins was published in the three years between awards.