The foul ball careened off a Detroit Tiger player’s bat and landed in the outstretched hand of a lucky fan in old Tiger Stadium.
Ernie Harwell announced, “That ball was caught by a man from Frog Holler, Michigan.”
“Frog Holler?” Paul Carey chimed in. “Where’s that?”
“It’s a place in northern Lower Michigan, where the famous poet Max Ellison recites poetry every summer Saturday evening. People from all over the country drive down a narrow two-track road to hear him. “
Frog Holler was located in a naturally acoustic wooded valley with a spring-fed pond just south of Bellaire.
For years Max held court there. Some people called him the unofficial poet laureate of the state.
Max was invited to recite his poem “Michigan” at Governor William G. Milliken’s first inauguration. When he wasn’t at Frog Holler Max was on the road reciting poetry in schools, festivals and conferences.
At the end of the evening members of the audience could enter Max’s small house. Inside they could buy his books and small watercolor paintings, and sign his walls. That was his guest book, his white plasterboard walls. I’d never experienced anyplace like it, and was smitten.
By 1980 I’d been writing poetry for 15 years, but my art was still sputtering along. I didn’t know what kind of poet I was yet, but was working hard trying to figure it out. Meeting Max helped me find the last piece of my puzzle.
I knew right away I wanted to do what he was doing. Within a week I had memorized a dozen of my poems, and I’ve been memorizing and performing poetry ever since.
I worked with Max most Saturday nights for the next two summers. I also started building the Stone Circle, a triple ring of boulders inspired by Frog Holler.
Max was beginning to wind down, so we decided to move the gathering to my place. Whereas Frog Holler had been pretty much a one-man show, I tried to steer Stone Circle into a more open forum for poets who wanted to participate. The word got around.
Max Ellison was only with us one year. He died of an inoperable brain tumor at 71. Thirty-six years later Stone Circle is still going.
For our 31st anniversary a film crew from Barcelona visited us and shot footage for a documentary that was edited in Spain. It was released two years ago and has been accepted in various film festivals around the United States and Europe.
Last spring “The Stone Circle” screened at the State Theatre in Traverse City. The film was also shown four times at the Elk Rapids Cinema in early June.
Now it’s returning to where it all began. “The Stone Circle” documentary will be presented at the Bellaire Theater on Nov. 23 at 3 p.m. I hope Max Ellison’s spirit will be there sitting right up front.