Monday, August 5, 2013

Workshop writes a collective ode to Theodore Roethke 50 years after his death

Poet Carol Sanford, standing, listens to some of the lines written by a workshop member

Two days before the 50th anniversary of Pulitzer-winning Theodore Roethke's death, an “In a Poet’s Backyard” workshop took place in the back yard of his boyhood home at 1805 Gratiot in Saginaw.

Led by poet Carol Sanford, the 12 participants listened to Sanford read some of Roethke’s nature-driven poems as the child of a greenhouse owner, took in the sights and sounds and smells of the yard and home, and then wrote their own lines evoking him, the atmosphere and their own thoughts.

Sanford took all the writings home and used them to shape the following collective poem.

To Theodore Roethke

by “The Eye Begins to See” Workshop Members
       Roethke Summer Picnic Series/July 30, 2013

1923 – The year your father died
In the foyer of your home you pass boy hands
over stately, polished, dark walnut pillars.
You hide secrets in hallway cupboards
and bend over the stairway railing
to feel the depth and plunge of it.
You lean to touch your forehead on the mirror
above the fireplace mantle.  Whose face?
You read voraciously, randomly
while the family Victrola scratches out music.
Almost fifteen, you take your father’s place
at the table, your mother’s silver and linen before you,
but her soups no longer thick with greenhouse vegetable
gathered from your lost world, your father’s.
You know the dark, dark side of growing things.

1958 – Five years before your death
The high windows of your back porch once looked out
on your father’s glassy fields of flowers.
Even now as you sit writing, their smells linger 
on your pen.  You get up, walk through the house, 
hear the familiar creak of floors.
You think of your boyhood, your Prussian father,
how he did not love you enough. Nor you him.
You still need his impossible praise
for your poems, your prizes, your fame, your life.

2013 – Fifty years after your death
Ted, we understand that you perceived
how the unbeautiful is beautiful: 
White roses hide needles, 
purple orchids thrive in dense, oppressive air.
You studied death while the greenhouse pulsed—
 the dripping panes, the spotted light, 
snow sliding from inclined glass;
saw how weeds entangle and extend us, 
must be pulled today, tomorrow.
We who think of you, who cherish your words,
now feel your quick breath through the backyard fence:
You, the wind that slowly, slowly erodes stone walls.

-- Members of the workshop, and contributors to joint poem: Katelynd Alexander, Mary Ellen Roethke, Maxine Harris, Carol Sanford, Cassidy Johnson, Glenn Sanford, Janet I. Martineau, Nan Spence, Don Nagler, Marion Tincknell, Nancy Nagler, Betty Van Ochten, Annie Ransford.  

For more pictures of the workshop in progress:

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