By Jan Worth-Nelson
It is with a heavy heart that we announce that Grayce Scholt, our beloved longtime poet of East Village Magazine, died this morning at the Mission Point rehab center in Holly. Grayce was 92. As we attempt to absorb this great loss for EVM and for the community, here is a column I wrote just after I started writing for East Village Magazine ten years ago. One of the first people the late Gary Custer wanted me to interview was Grayce. We knew of each other’s work from years before, when we both wrote art reviews for The Flint Journal, but we never had actually sat down together to get acquainted. For me it was a wonderful afternoon, and here is the piece that came from it, published in 2008. We loved each other from the start. I loved her wit, her amused skepticism and dark view of the world, her love of birds, and her deep devotion to the craft of poem-making that was one of the joys of her life.
“Before we get started,” Grayce Scholt says, smiling as she puts on the teapot in her bright kitchen, “listen to these poems I just wrote.”
Outside, it’s 15 degrees and snowing lightly, but here inside Grayce’s welcoming colonial on Kensington, everything is warm, fragrant and alive. Polly, Grayce’s orange kitty, sidles around our legs.
At 82, Grayce is petite, remarkably nimble and at ease in her silver gray pageboy and soft plaid sweater. She reminds me she is a little deaf and I should be sure to speak up. Then she sits down across from me at the table and picks up the top page from a pile of white paper.
She explains that one day when she and her beloved neighbor and colleague Jane Bingham pulled into Grayce’s driveway, a red-tailed hawk swooped into the yard.
She announces the poem: “Raptor.” She looks at me closely, her glasses glinting, and says it again to be sure I’m listening. “Raptor”:
A hawk is watching
in the cherry tree.
Beneath, a fox squirrel
flees in wild foray;
a purple finch dark gray from
winter’s waste hangs
on the sack of thistle seeds
I put there yesterday,
And still it feeds.
Both squirrel and bird
know well the rufous tail
prevails, the yellow eye
In my small way I say
if only hunger could abate
without the bloody
claw, the beak—and yet I
know that even red-tailed
hawks must eat, and
when I’ll find the feathers,
fur in my back yard
I’ll know that in the remnants
of the smallest deaths
is life, if only in the raptor’s
rise, the flight.
Incredibly, in her ninth decade, retired from teaching English at Mott Community College since 1990, Grayce Scholt the poet is at the top of her form.
“Do you think you’re writing better poems than, say, 30 years ago?” I ask.
“Oh, yeah. Yes, Yes. Absolutely,” she says, “no question about it.”
We are celebrating the arrival of the beautiful hardcover copies of her first full-length collection of poems, Bang! Go All the Porch Swings, which she has just independently published through iUniverse. The book is available through iUniverse.com, barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, buy.com and by order from many local bookstores.
I’m not an objective reviewer because I love Grayce’s work, and I wrote one of her jacket blurbs. They are poems, I wrote there, of ferocious grief and beauty in which she confronts loneliness and salvages hope in a time of universal doubt, war and disconnection.
Scholt’s roots in Flint go back more than a half century. She arrived, an exasperated doctoral student from the University of Wisconsin, in January 1955, when MCC had just moved to its Court Street site from the old Oak Grove asylum adjacent to Central High School. It had only 1500 students and was, she recalls, “still mud all over.”
But the person who hired her, then MCC English Department Chair Lena Johnson, said, “We’re looking for a woman,” and offered her a starting salary of $4300. “It just floored me,” Scholt says. “They wanted a woman? In 1955? And that was the most money I’d ever made in my life.”
Another event soon determined a huge part of Scholt’s future. Her best friend from high school in Oak Harbor, Ohio, Susan Kilmer, was abruptly spurned by her fiancé, an Austrian music professor and conductor. Devastated, she came to Flint to recoup with her great friend Grayce, and neither ever left. Kilmer got a job in the Flint Public Schools, rising from teacher to administrator to children’s program director at WFBE, the district’s public radio station. Eventually she became the station’s manager. In 1961, Scholt and Kilmer bought the 1925 colonial on Kensington where Grayce still lives. Separately and together, they forged a role as robust participants in the cultural life of the community. Scholt, and Flint, suffered an immense loss when Kilmer died of cancer in April 1993.
“I’d just had heart surgery in December of ’92,” Scholt remembers of that wrenching time. “We were worried about me, and I was already in bad shape.” Kilmer’s diagnosis was shocking and her death, brutally sudden. One of Scholt’s most riveting poems, “Good Friday,” recalls that terrible day.
“I lost interest in everything,” Scholt says. Finally, her friend Jane Bingham urged her to take up art. She’d been an art and English double major in college, and for a time thought she’d be an art teacher. Disheartened and desolate, she found her way to Kathryn Sharbaugh at the Flint Institute of Art, and there she rediscovered a love for ceramics that rescued her and ignited a new artistic passion. The walls of her home now are filled with colorful fish, her favorite ceramic subject. She’s had one show so far at the MCC Gallery and writes art reviews for the Flint Journal.
But it is the poetry that most sustains her. She loves the craft of it, revising and revising for the sheer pleasure of the music she creates. She returns again and again to her childhood in Ohio, where her father was a cabinetmaker for a Lake Erie yacht builder. She confesses to a deep poetic attraction to weather, birds, the ancient silver maple in her back yard.
Her worldview, she concedes, is dark. “Obviously, I’m obsessed with death – it’s in everything,” she says. “I don’t mean it to be that way but how can we so alive, and then, so dead?”
Nonetheless, there also is a religious quality to her work — not wistful, but open. She points to “Potato Planters,” a poem she notes was published in Christian Century, in which she writes,
I never doubted every eye
I dropped would sprout, nor when
our chunks were crop and foliage down,
we’d dig into the miracle
and wheel our harvest home.
“I belong to the Episcopal Church – I don’t know why,” she says. “I’m such a nut. I even have a niche in the columbarium down there [St. Paul’s], a pinch of my ashes in church just in case.”
We pause and sip our tea. Polly jumps up on the table and flirts. Outside, it’s still snowing and Grayce’s majestic silver maple seems up to another winter.
“So, is Flint a good town for a poet?” I ask.
“Oh, I think Flint’s a good place, period,” she responds without hesitation. “There are so many opportunities – God, so many. All the stuff going on in this so-called crappy town, geez, you can’t begin to keep up with it.”
Funeral arrangements for Grayce Scholt have not yet been announced.
EVM editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.