Roethke Poetry Festival returns to SVSU after COVID-19

Roethke Poetry Festival Banner. Courtesy Photo

Theodore Roethke, a Saginaw native and Pulitzer prize winning poet, will be celebrated with a festival in his honor from March 17 to March 22.

Roethke (May 25, 1908-Aug. 1 1963) is widely considered one of the most influential poets of the 20th century.

Carlos Ramet, Associate Dean of the College of Arts & Behavioral Sciences, and a professor of English/Creative Writing at SVSU, offers insight into the strength and significance of Roethke’s writing.

“Roethke’s strength lies in a sense of particular settings and in describing the impact those settings have on the individual,” Ramet stated. “He was a poet from Saginaw who returned often to this region. His poems, while evocative and localized, earned him a national and international reputation.”

The 2023 Festival is reinstated after delays and postponements made due to Covid-19.

Ramet is also chair of the Theodore Roethke Poetry & Arts Festival Planning Committee.

“We are delighted to be able to reinstate the Festival after the delays caused by covid,” Ramet said. “We believe the Festival is an important testament to the arts in this region and an opportunity to celebrate Roethke’s creative legacy.”

Ramet is optimistic on the turn-out for the events of the Festival. Prior to Covid-19, Festival events were generally well attended.

There are a wide range of events that are free and open to the public.

This includes a Poetry Slam, Roethke House Tours and Poetry Reading, a Ted (Roethke) Talk and Brew, a Concert Band Tribute, the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize Ceremony, and a Jazz and Poetry event.

These events are funded in part by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. SVSU’s partnership with local businesses and organizations also makes these events possible.

Additionally, throughout the month of March, a Roethke Display will be featured in the Roberta Allen Reading Room of SVSU’s Zahnow Library.

SVSU’s Writing Center will also be sponsoring a “Write Like Roethke” poetry contest for local high school students.

The signature event of the Festival is the presentation of the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize, which will be held March 21.

“The Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize is a national award of considerable significance,” Ramet said. “The $10,000 honorarium places the Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize among the top poetry awards in this country.”

This national prize has been awarded every three years since 1968.

2022 Roethke Memorial Prize recipient Dr. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley. Courtesy Photo

The purpose of the award is to recognize a book published in the past three years that has made a significant contribution to American poetry.

The judges of the prize are nationally recognized poets.

They are selected by the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, otherwise known as the official poet of the United States.

At this year’s Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize Ceremony, the 2022 recipient Dr. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley will be recognized for her collection of poems “Praise Song for My Children: New and Collected Poems.” Dr. Wesley will read selections from her poetry collection during the ceremony.

She will also be signing books following the event.

With such an array of events to celebrate Roethke, Ramet encourages SVSU student attendance.

“Students should consider the range of activities during the six-day Festival and find one or more events that engage them,” Ramet said. “We have everything from a Poetry Slam to concerts and jazz mixed with poetry readings. All events are free of charge.”

More information on the Roethke Festival can be found for those interested at

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