Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 9, 2013

Stone Circle turns 30

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — ELK RAPIDS — The 88 boulders at the Stone Circle will remain silent as always, but not the poets, musicians and friends who gather the next two Saturday nights to celebrate the outdoor fire circle’s 30th anniversary.

They’ll do it with one foot in the ancient oral tradition and the other in a modern form of storytelling — documentary filmmaking.

The celebration will be filmed by a Spanish crew directed by Patrick Pfister, a poet, writer, filmmaker and old college friend of Stone Circle founder Terry Wooten. The segment eventually will become part of a documentary that probably will be released by mid-2014, Pfister said.

“I would like to document what has happened here at the Stone Circle for three decades,” Pfister said. “Terry Wooten and the other poets have kept the oral tradition alive and the flame of light glowing brightly. It’s outstanding service to art and humanity.”

Pfister arrived in Antrim County three weeks ago to interview and film the location, the Wootens and about 20 to 30 friends, poets and musicians. Two Northwestern Michigan College audio technology students, Colin Wakefield and Lily Kroupa, also are helping the film crew for class credit.

Wooten, a performance poet and 29-year writing workshop instructor, created the Stone Circle in 1983 on five acres of land about nine miles north of Elk Rapids where he lives with and his wife, Wendi.

The Stone Circle opens each summer in June on the Saturday night closest to the summer solstice and runs through Labor Day weekend. It is dedicated to the ancient oral tradition, which Wooten describes as a time when history, herstory, myth and ethics were transmitted only by the spoken word in poems and stories.

All stories and poetry told at the Stone Circle must be memorized and recited. No reading is allowed except in unusual circumstances with Wooten’s approval.

Wooten was in his 30s when he started the circle. He credits two Antrim County mentors — the late Max Ellison and Chuck Shinn — for the idea.

Ellison was a Bellaire-born poet who traveled the eastern United States for years reciting poetry in schools. He believed that poetry was meant to be spoken and had committed six hours of his and other poetry to memory. Shinn was a friend of Ellison’s who kept a meticulous journal that Wooten read after his death. He was one of the sit-down strikers in Flint during the labor struggles of 1936-37.

Wooten said as many as 70 poets come to Stone Circle every summer. Audiences average about 40 people.

“I think it’s the ambiance of the place that draws people back,” he said. “You can’t sit around a fire and not hear stories. Once it gets dark, the fire, boulders and night sky turn the circle into a kind of a mythical place and a powerful setting. People remember that.”

Pfister and Wooten met through writer friends 40 years ago at Western Michigan University, where both were students. Wooten majored in elementary education and Pfister in journalism. Both were already writing poetry. They have kept in touch “the old fashioned way by writing letters,” but hadn’t seen each other for 33 years. Pfister has lived in Europe for 25 years.

“Terry wrote me this year and explained what they were doing, and it hit me hard that someone had to film the 30th anniversary,” Pfister said.

So, he offered to do just that.

“I would like to show the intimacy of the Stone Circle, the shadow and glow of fire on the poets’ faces and a form of art that has nothing to do with mass communication, yet people come year after year, decade after decade,” he said.

Pfister has written three three books about his travels. He began working on documentary films about seven years ago. Wooten has written 14 books of poetry.

Starting time at the Stone Circle this Saturday and next is 8 p.m. to provide more daylight for filming. Admission for the two celebration Saturdays is free, but the audience and all participants will be required to sign a standard release form.

Wooten said more than 20 poets have committed to return to the Stone Circle on one or both Saturdays. Some will come from as far away as Rome, Houston, Syracuse, New York, and Pennsylvania. Some started writing, memorizing and reciting poetry as high school students or participated in some of Wooten’s workshops.

“A part of me is very touched,” Wooten said. “Things haven’t changed much since we began. I’m older, have less hair and more wrinkles, but the idea behind the fire circle was that I wanted to create a forum for everyday people and poets. I’m happy to say it’s worked. We have had a lot of people who have cut their teeth on poetry here.”