If you’re a culture vulture as I am, you don’t often associate Michigan with poetry, and when you do it’s either fairly dreadful stuff like Edgar Guest or far removed from personal experience such as Thomas Lynch or Philip Levine. It is true several transplants have wound up in Michigan by happenstance, including academic hires such as John Ciardi and Richard Tillinghast. Homegrown Jim Harrison is a poet, but is better known for his fiction and essays.
That leaves Saginaw’s own Theodore Roethke, a groundbreaking “deep image” poet who died in 1963, leaving a body of work that impressed W.H. Auden, Louise Bogan, and many other heavy-hitting versifiers and poetry critics. Suffice to say, Roethke had a tremendous impact on poetry in the second-half of the 20th century.
So it’s unfortunate that Michigan author Jeff Vande Zande doesn’t make more of Roethke in his latest novel, “American Poet.” True, Roethke’s boyhood home — which still stands as a historical landmark on Gratiot Avenue in Saginaw — features prominently and the Arthur Hill High School grad’s status as a world-class poet is expressed by the book’s characters. But the man’s literary legacy is given short shrift otherwise.
Read more at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy Blog: http://www.mackinac.org/16867