Michigan poet Theodore Roethke (1908-1963) will be honored Saturday April 28 at a special, second-day-of-issue stamp ceremony at his boyhood home in Saginaw Michigan to recognize the recently issued Forever stamp that depicts his likeness. The traditional first-day-of-issue was held Saturday April 21 at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
Roethke and Robert Hayden of Detroit and the University of Michigan are part of the new 10- stamp series honoring U.S. Poets. Others are Elizabeth Bishop, Joseph Brodsky, Gwendolyn Brooks, ee Cummings, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams. None of the poets are living.
Roethke’s family was well known in the Saginaw Valley for their flower business, both wholesale and retail. Read more about Roethke at the Poetry Foundation by clicking here. And read more about a sculpture recognizing the life and work of Roethke that is at Saginaw Valley University by clicking here.
Roethke, who taught at Michigan State College for a short while until he was dismissed, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1954 and his boyhood home at 1805 Gratiot on Saginaw’s Westside has been preserved by the Friends of Theodore Roethke Foundation and is available for tours. The home is both a Michigan Literary Landmark and the National Literary Landmark.
The poetic themes of Roethke often included the flowers and plants with which he grew up with. He saw the greenhouse as the metaphor for his life. His collection of poetry “The Lost Son” includes several “greenhouse” poems.
During his career Roethke taught at several Universities and after he was dismissed by Michigan State College in 1935 for his heavy drinking, the result of depression, he sent this note to a friend:
“Hell, I don’t care what happens to me, whether I go nuts or my entrails hang out, but I can’t stand being mindless and barren as I’ve been.”
Roethke won the Pulitzer Prize for his book “The Waking” in 1954 and the National Book Award in 1959 for “Words for the Wind.” Read more of his poetry here.
Roethke House turns Post Office for the day on April 28 from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m for the specially created second-day-issue envelope and United States Postal Service cancellation of the Theodore Roethke Forever stamp. The programs include poetry readings, tours of the house, music, guest speakers and refreshments. Sponsored by the Friends of Theodore Roethke, the special stamped and cancelled envelope will be available for $3.00. Visit the Roethke Home website here.
Of course, on site will be author Jeff Vande Zande who teaches English at Delta College and recently released a novel “American Poet” which follows a young poet from Saginaw Michigan who is enamored with Roethke and sets out to save the Roethke ancestral home from destruction. The home serves as a metaphor for the protagonist who is trying to save his own life and it’s easy to draw comparisons to Roethke and the protagonist. Read more about Vande Zande here.
Vande Zande uses the backdrop of Saginaw, a diminished city and once a vibrant commercial center, as a force that must be considered and constantly reevaluated. Learn more about the book here.
Another Michigan poet who was recognized on the postage stamps is Robert Hayden who was raised in Detroit’s Blackbottom and was part of the Federal Writers Project. He was the first black poet laureate of the United States. After graduating from Detroit City College he went on to receive an advanced degree from the University of Michigan and cited his professor W.H. Auden as pivotal to his career.
Read a release on the U.S. Postal dedication here.
The poems of Robert Hayden reflect his brilliant craftsmanship, his historical conscience and his gift for storytelling. The Robert Hayden stamp features a photograph of Robert Hayden taken around 1975 by Timothy Franklin. The photograph is part of the Prints and Photographs Division at the Library of Congress. The Roethke stamp features a photograph taken in London, England.
Roethke published these two poems, some of his earliest poetry in the magazine “Harp” in 1930.
Sweep up the broken dreams of youth!
(The broom to use is utter truth.)
Thou art not light’s negation
Thou art another light
That lives in sweet relation
With souls that have no sight