Poet David Baker award Roethke prize

Writers dream of having their work read by others.

For David Baker, it’s a dream come true.

“The work we do alone, at our desks, sometimes matters,” Baker said.

Baker was honored Tuesday with the twelfth annual Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize. This award is given to a living American poet for an individual book of poetry published in the span of three years. This year’s prize included 2008 to 2010.

Baker won with his poetry collection, “Never-Ending Birds,” which he says is about “loss and returning.”

“I can’t tell you how important and how lucky I feel for all of this,” he said.

The ceremony was part of the 2011 Theodore Roethke Poetry & Arts Festival, a celebration of the Pulitzer-prize winning poet from Saginaw. This is the first year SVSU’s Board of Fellows, a community advisory board, sponsored the prize.

Baker has 12 published books, a Ph.D. in English from the University of Utah and is a musician.

Paul Chaffee, secretary for the SVSU Board of Fellows, introduced Baker, saying that his music helps inspire his poetry.

Baker said that poetry is “isolated, under the radar, art.” He said you can find things from reading poetry that are found in the media and technology that constantly surrounds us.

“What is found there: inwardness, beauty. What is found there: complexity, rigor, difficulty,” he said. “What is found there: the best questions rather than the simple answers.”

Baker said that the two most important things found are paradox and sympathy.

He said it is important to get away from all the media, data, advertising, merchandise and “in-your-face noise.”

Lauren Boulton, creative writing senior, said that it made her think about her own habits not only as a reader, but as a writer.

“We are so media attached,” she said. “And I’m as guilty of that as anyone.”

She said that she needs to start writing away from media and her laptop to let the inspiration come.

Baker read some of his own poetry including “The Rumor,” “Trillium” and “The Feast.”

Mark Miller, creative writing junior, said he really liked the poem, “The Feast,” because he could relate to it. As a registered nurse, he has taken care of a lot of cancer patients and said this poem reminded him of that.

“That’s what I like about poems,” he said. “You feel.”

Baker said he felt very welcome at SVSU because of its similarities in size, school colors and community to the university where he got his degree: Central Missouri State University.

“This feels like a homecoming,” he said.

And indeed, the prize is not far from home for Baker. Six years ago, Baker served as a judge.

The U.S. Poet Laureate selects the judges for this prize. This year’s judges were David Wagoner, poet, playwright, novelist and former student of Roethke, as well as Rosanna Warren, poet, editor, literary critic and daughter of former Roethke Prize winner, Robert Penn Warren.

After reading some of his own and Roethke’s poetry, Baker was available at a reception that offered a book sale and signing, refreshments and music.

“It’s really neat that we do this award here,” Boulton said, “and honor American poets that are doing work like this.”

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