Flint muralist creates bus mural celebrating poet Theodore Roethke

By Tom Travis

Flint muralist Pauly Everett has been commissioned by the Theodore Roethke Poetry and Arts Festival in Saginaw to paint a mural on the side of a bus. The theme for the mural is Saginaw native poet Theodore Roethke (1908-1963).

The bus will be displayed during the festival that is “tentatively” scheduled for March 19-22, 2021 according to festival director and director of the Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) Writing Center, Helen Raica-Koltz.

She noted that these dates will be confirmed or rescheduled for the same time in March 2022 by mid-October.

The bus is being donated by STARS (Saginaw Transit Area Regional Services). The bus was located in front of The Saginaw Art Museum from Sept. 3 – 4 while Everett painted.

Everett chose from his palette of two cardboard boxes of spray paint cans.

Raica-Koltz said the mural is designed to celebrate both Saginaw and Roethke, whose life and poetry were deeply shaped by his difficult childhood.    “It is a fitting way to begin our festival early,” Raica Koltz said.

Roethke’s father, Otto, was a German immigrant, a “market-gardener who owned a large local 25-acre greenhouse” along with his brother, Roethke’s uncle, in Saginaw.    He wrote many poems about the greenhouse, particularly in his collection “The Lost Son.”  Some critics have noted the greenhouses became a source of ambivalence:   “They were to me, I realize now, both heaven and hell, a kind of tropics created in the savage climate of Michigan, where austere German Americans turned their love of order and their terrifying efficiency into something beautiful,”  he said.

His 1954 collection The Waking won the Pulitzer Prize, and is considered by some to be one of the most important books of contemporary poetry in the 20th century.

Flint muralist Pauly Everett at work on the bus in front of the Saginaw Art Museum. (Photo by Tom Travis)

Thor Rasmussen, marketing and creative manager at Saginaw Arts Museum, said this project is associated with the Roethke Poetry and Arts festival and receives funding from the Michigan Humanities Council.  This something new for the Saginaw Art Museum to be working with STARS, the regional transit, to paint the mural, Rasmussen said.

Raica-Klotz said that because of the highly interactive and personal nature of the Festival, “If we are unable to hold the festival in person, we will reschedule it for the same time in 2022.”

Raica-Koltz explained that the festival was designed to celebrate the poetry of Roethke, who won the Pulitzer Prize,  and to honor the winner of the Triannual Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize given every three years to a contemporary American poet.

One side of the completed mural by Flint muralist Pauly Everett. The bus had to be moved inside to complete the painting due to rain and wind. (Photo provided by Pauly Everett)

Raica-Koltz added, “The Festival, along with the visit of [Roethke] to Saginaw, was begun in the 1960s. The Festival takes place roughly every three years, and has grown into a five-day event that continues to feature a visit by the poet winning the Memorial Poetry Prize, along with a series of poetry and arts-related events held throughout the Great Lakes Bay region.

“This upcoming Festival will feature films about Roethke and his work, open tours of Roethke’s childhood home, poetry slams and readings, and art and poetry contests.
“In addition, Oracle Brewing in Saginaw has agreed to brew three specialty beers, all named after poems written by Roethke.”

One side of the completed bus mural. (Photo provided by Pauly Everett).

Everett explained the festival leaders gave him a selection of stanzas from Roethke’s work. Everett was to choose one stanza that he would use for a theme on the bus mural. Everett chose the lines from Roethke’s North American Sequence, taken from “The Far Field” (1964) which reads: “My mind moves in more than one place, In a country half-land, half-water.”

Everett is well known around Flint for his dynamic and bold paintings. Everett’s work is on display in galleries and walls around the Flint area.

Everett has painted walls and had shows in Asheville, NC, Harrisburg, PA, St. Petersburg, FL, West Oakland, CA and more. Everett claims that his art work can be found in “nearly every state in the country.”

Pauly Everett’s art work can be viewed on his Facebook page or on this link https://www.facebook.com/ARTBYPAULY and also on Instagram at @flintundergroundkid.

EVM assistant editor Tom Travis can be reached at tomntravis@gmail.com.


Author: Tom Travis

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