Festival honoring Saginaw poet marks 50th year

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The 50th Theodore Roethke Poetry and Arts Festival runs this year from March 23 to March 28 and will honor the life and legacy of Saginaw poet Theodore Roethke.

The festival events include a poetry slam, tours of Theodore Roethke’s house, visits to local schools and many other public events.

“In the 1960s, a group of community members got together to create a prize in honor of Theodore Roethke,” said Helen Raica-Klotz, the director of the Writing Center. “They filled Arthur Hill High School with community members that donated money and created a poetry prize, and they awarded it to a national poet.”

The prize is awarded to a poet who produced a book of poetry over the previous three years. The festival itself is funded by the Michigan Humanities Council, with the Morley Foundation providing funding for additional materials.

Raica-Klotz took on the role of the chair in the formation of this year’s festival.

“She’s been doing an amazing job; it’s a huge undertaking,” said Christopher Giroux, assistant director of the Writing Center. “It’s a national award, and there’s so much that comes in to celebrate it.”

The recipient of this year’s Roethke Memorial Prize for Poetry is Douglas Kearney, a professor at the California Institute of Arts, for his collection titled “Buck Studies.” Kearney will give a reading of his poetry at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 27, in the Rhea E. Miller Recital Hall.

Kearney will also host writing workshops at Midland Dow High School and the Wirt Public Library in Bay City and will give poetry readings at Counter Culture in Saginaw tonight at 9:30 p.m. and again at the Wirt Public Library on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.

“The events we’re doing are based on our community partnerships,” Raica-Klotz said. The Writing Center and its off-campus branches in Bay City and Saginaw are each putting on a writing contest for a $100 prize.
“The three writing centers sponsored a ‘Write Like Roethke’ contest where we invited people to take one of four prompts that come from Roethke’s poetry and write a piece inspired by those prompts,” Raica-Klotz said. “We had 76 entries, and the winners will be performing their poetry at the poetry slam.”

To celebrate the 50th anniversary, the Morley Foundation funded the creation of a calendar, book and video to highlight the poets being honored by the festival. Giroux and SVSU alumnus Dylan Call collaborated using Call’s photography to create the calendar and book.

“What’s remarkable about the Roethke-inspired calendar is that it features Michigan poets that wrote original poems inspired by Theodore Roethke,” Raica-Klotz said.

Giroux noted the festival has grown beyond the SVSU community over the decades.

“It is beyond just being a regional event; it has been taken to the state and national level,” he said.

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