State of the Art – Local poetry

By Jack Rechsteiner, managing editor.

I was one of nearly 75 people gathered together at Counter Culture in Saginaw on a Tuesday night. Under cozy, dim lighting numerous patrons of the arts from all over the area filled the venue until it was standing room only – and even then people were pouring out into the room next to the stage. All were trying to get a place to see the headlining event of the night: local poetry.

With a turnout that went well over the expected capacity for the event, it’s hard to say that poetry isn’t thriving in the area.

Christopher Giroux, assistant director of the Saginaw and Bay City Writing Centers, took the stage to start the night. After a short introduction, Giroux thanked everyone who had made Still Life possible because of their actions, such as submitting their poems to the publication and coming out on a cold Tuesday night to support the writing that’s being made in the area.

Still Life is a community arts journal, which is a collection of poetry and photography by Saginaw and Bay City residents. The publication is put together by the Saginaw and Bay City Community Writing Centers along with SVSU with the intention of creating new opportunities for artists in the area and to have a literary platform to spotlight writers in the area.

“It’s all been about supporting writing and art. We believe that writing and art are what make a community,” says Giroux.

The affair was organized by the Saginaw and Bay City Community Writing Centers to celebrate the release of the first annual issue of Still Life, but it focused on hearing local poets perform pieces. Giroux gave the stage over to Benjamin Champagne, owner of Counter Culture as well as a poet in Still Life, who conducted the poetry readings and open mic competition for the night.

“The infrastructures of all these groups, like the writing centers and poetry centers, have banded people together and galvanized them, so that when these things happen, there are whole factions of talented writers coming to read and support other artists,” says Champagne.

After all the poets in attendance who were published in Still Life had read their pieces, an additional 30 local writers performed their poems for the enthusiastic crowd during the open mic portion of the event.

“I see so many people who care about art and writing in our little part of the world who want to share that with each other, and it’s amazing. There are no other words. It’s simply amazing,” says Giroux.

The turnout in Saginaw was just the beginning of the poetry the Tri-Cities saw that week. Only two days after the Still Life release open mic, the Tri-City Center for Poetry had a separate open mic at The Loch Coffee Company in Midland. The parking lot filled up so quickly for the event that attendees eager to be there had their cars parked up and down the curbsides of the surrounding streets.

That Thursday night, more than 50 people were packed inside the coffeehouse to listen to poetry. The crowd was made up from people of all ages who had come from all over the area, with only a handful of who were also at the open mic at Counter Culture earlier that week.

The event was coordinated by Delta English Professor Mark Brown, who thanked everyone for being there and was the first to perform for the open mic to break the ice of the January evening.

“We put on these events in the hopes of encouraging the love, adoration and practice of poetry in the Tri-City area. I would love for there to be more of a culture surrounding it because of people wanting it to happen,” says Brown.

Out of all the people in attendance, 20 writers signed up to read while the audience listened with rapt attention to each poet. There was an energy of community charging the night, with the crowd welcoming each person to the stage with encouraging claps and applause them following appreciative snapping fingers after they performed. The first round of poetry had left the audience wanting more, so by a vote of enthusiastic cheers the room agreed upon having a second reading from willing poets to close out the night.

“It’s really satisfying to see the community out to support something like poetry, which gets such short shrift in our culture. Generally speaking, the 21st century doesn’t care much about poetry or the written word, so it’s fantastic coming to an event like this and having all these people here,” says Brown.

This is just the start of poetry that’s happening in the Tri-Cities for this year.

The Tri-City Center for Poetry will be putting on another open mic night on Thursday, Feb. 22 at Golden Gallery in Bay City. More information can be found on Facebook at Tri-City Center for Poetry and Creative Writing.

The Theodore Roethke Festival, which celebrates Saginaw native Theodore Roethke, who has been called one of the most accomplished poets of his generation, takes place once every three years and will be happening from March 23 to 28 in 2018.

The Saginaw and Bay Writing Centers are also currently accepting entries for the Write Like Roethke Poetry Contest, as well as the 2019 edition of Still Life. Entries for the Write Like Roethke Poetry Contest are due by March 2, 2018, and info on submission guidelines can be found at Entries for the 2019 edition of Still Life are due by July 15, 2018 and info on submission guidelines can be found at

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