by Janet I. Martineau
A series of 11 backyard picnic programs will keep participants busy this summer -- painting a 16-foot mural, sharing memories of their birthdays, and acting in a readers theater play about a famous Saginawian.
“And we will serve birthday cake and ice cream with the birthday memories event,” says Annie Ransford of the “In a Poet’s Backyard” offerings at 1805 Gratiot, the boyhood home of Pulitzer-winning poet Theodore Roethke, as well as three off-site venues.
|An earlier event, with Roethke's house in the background|
Most of the programs, in fact, include food -- catered by such venues as dawn of a new day, Crumbs, Sullivans and The Savoy, says Ransford, the president of the Friends of Theodore Roethke Foundation which owns and operates the Roethke home. And several are aimed at family participation, she adds, with affordable admission.
Following is the summer schedule:
-- Tuesday, June 12, “The Human Pang: Writing About What Matters,” led by Holly Wren Spaulding. Noon-3:30 pm. $20 includes lunch from dawn of a new day,
Spaulding currently teaches writing at Northwestern Michigan College and leads monthly Poetry Boot Camps in Traverse City.
In this workshop, aimed at poets. essayists, memoir writers and fiction writers, Spaulding will discuss the necessity of taking emotional risks in writing and how to tackle big themes and experiences. She will read works in which the author writes with "something at stake"; guide participants into improvisations designed to encourage leaps of the imagination, unlikely associations, fresh imagery and dazzling language, and provide strategies for getting started.
Spaulding studied creative writing at Interlochen Arts Academy, University of Michigan, and Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Her articles, essays and poems have appeared in The Nation, Michigan Quarterly Review, Witness and Wake and among her honors are five Avery Hopwood Awards.
-- Tuesday, June 19, “Raising Awareness: Getting One’s Mental and Physical on Par." 7-8:30 pm at Zauel Library, 3100 N. Center. Free.
This summer, Roethke House extends its reach into mental health issues, in consideration of Roethke's own struggles with mental illness. Dr. Harold Lenhart and Mary Ann Fournier will discuss Roethke’s diagnosis, his writing and his life through family stories of awareness and survival.
-- Wednesday, June 20, “Saginaw Community Garden Project.” 10am-noon at Good Neighbors Mission, 1318 Cherry. $10 includes snack.
Padaric Ingle, the founder and director of the of Grow Saginaw project seeking to establish community gardens throughout the city, will construct one or more raised bed planters at this site as he talks about the importance of community gardens and how Roethke’s family once owned the largest greenhouse in the Saginaw area and was heavily involved in gardening.
-- Thursday, June 21, “Create a Mural With Poetry and Paint.” 10am-noon. $10 a person/$15 family includes a snack.
Bay City artist/author Mary Blocksma will read her children's poem "Scammon's Lagoon," describing a magic place where the gray whales congregate every year, and then guide those attending in the painting of a 16-foot mural.
“We’ll line up the mural paper on tables stretched across the yard,” says Ransford, “and hopefully find a place willing to showcase the finished product.”
-- Wednesday, June 27, “Finding and Shaping Your Narrative.” 10am-12:30pm. $20 includes lunch from Crumbs.
Roethke was a master at observation, drawing word pictures so clearly that readers can see, and feel, the details of his life experiences.
Artist and writer, Wilma Romatz will lead writers into drawing meaningful objects that will tap into their memories in a surprising way and will demonstrate how examining old photos can spark creativity in much the same way that walking into a greenhouse inspired Roethke.
And author and educator Gloria Nixon-John will read from “Learning From Lady Chatterley,” her memoir in narrative verse, as she shares Roethke’s proclivity toward narrative in his verse even before it was fashionable. Also shared is narrative verse penned by Sharon Olds and Michael Ondaatje before participants dabble in their own creations.
-- Thursday, June 28, “Touching Spirit Bear, A Novel Discussion.” 4-5pm. $10 a person/$15 family includes lemonade and cookies.
Rob Joslyn, an English teacher at White Pine Middle School, will lead a family conversation about Ben Mikaelsen’s award-winning novel “Touching Spirit Bear,” dealing with the issue of bulling.
Joslyn was one of the teachers who participated in this year’s Great Lakes Great Read project during which middle school students in Saginaw, Bay and Midland counties read the book and attended presentations by Mikaelsen. The project was sponsored by Saginaw Township Community Education, SVSU, Creative 360 and Bay City Public Schools.
-- Tuesday, July 17, “Party at the Zoo.” 2-3pm at the Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square, 1730 S. Washington. Free with $7 admission to the zoo.
In a collaboration between Bay Arenac Reading Council and Friends of Theodore Roethke, the party includes poetry reading, games, party hats and animal crackers. Roethke penned a book-long poem titled “Party at the Zoo,” eaturing story of his goddaughter Meg Walkenshaw Fuell.
-- Tuesday, July 24, “Roethke’s Letters From Home,” performed by members of the River Junction Poets. 7-8pm. $10 includes dessert from The Savoy.
“This is taken from letters that were published, spanning the 1920s to the 1940s, during Roethke’s visits to Saginaw” says Ransford. “What will be special about this program is that the letters will be read at the house where they were written.”
-- Thursday, July 26, “Celebrate Birthday Memories and Stories With Alfreda Harris.” 7-8:30 pm. $10 a person/$15 family includes cake and ice cream.
Harris is a professional storyteller who shares stories that transcend cultural boundaries and expand global horizons in performances at schools, libraries, museums and nursing homes.
In this offering she will share personal and fictional birthday stories and then participants will have an opportunity to share a favorite birthday celebration memory in a story circle. Art supplies will be available for those who want to create an illustration to accompany their story.
“This program is more verbal than about writing,” says Ransford, “as people swap stories.”
Harris was a member of the Peace Corps in the Solomon Islands. She also has participated in two Roethke oral history projects supported by Michigan Humanities Council. During Flint’s 150th anniversary celebration she collected more than 600 stories from past and present residents of Flint neighborhoods for an exhibition at the Sloan Museum.
-- Thursday, July 31, “Roethke Readers Theater.” 6-7:30pm. $20 includes dinner from Sullivans.
Roberta Johnson, a retired California judge and law school professor, will create a readers theater script from “The Glass House,” a Roethke biography penned by Alan Seager. It will focus on the Roethke family and its life at 1805 Gratiot, says Ransford, including the divide between his boyhood home and his uncle’s house next door. Those attending will then read and play the parts.
Johnson has created several readers theater programs dealing with women in history.
-- Wednesday, Aug 22, “Creatives Conquered and Conquering, From Michigan to Memphis.” 6-8pm. $20 includes dinner from Sullivans.
Mike Mosher, a professor of art, communication and digital media at Saginaw Valley State University, examines what can be learned about Roethke from investigations of tf Elvis Presley, defeated by his depression, and that of a contemporary Michigan children's musician who creatively thrived once he got his bipolarity under control.
Mosher also will perform several original songs on the Roethke family piano.
Reservations are required for all of the programs including a catered lunch or dinner. Call (989) 928-0430 or e-mail email@example.com. by noon the day before the event. Tours of the house and registration begin 30 minutes before each program. Chairs are provided, but participants can also bring their own.
The “In a Poet’s Backyard” series is sponsored by grants from the Arthur D. Eddy Charity Trust managed by Citizens Bank Wealth Management, Saginaw Celebrates Summer/Hemlock Semiconductor, and the Michigan Humanities Council.