Lifelines: Happy birthday to a pivotal Michigan poet

Allison Batdorff, The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.
·2 min read

Mar. 21—Happy birthday to Max Ellison, Michigan's legendary poet and godfather to Stone Circle. He would have been 107 today.

In 1969 Max was invited to read his poem "Michigan" at Governor Milliken's first inauguration. He'd come a long way from being a shy boy with a phobia about speaking to people. He told me he started memorizing poems to compensate.

Max spent his first 18 years growing up near Bellaire, Michigan. He then worked with race horses for a short while in Lexington, Kentucky. After he married Florence Norton of Plymouth, World War II caught up with him.

He served with the Michigan Seventh Cavalry Division two years in the Philippines helping retake the islands, and was wounded twice.

After the war Max and Florence raised five kids on a hog farm between Plymouth and Northville. Later they moved back to Bellaire and bought the old Frog Holler school property. Max built a one-man hut there, and started performing poetry on summer Saturday nights. His reputation took off like a rocket.

Not only was Max a great performer of his own poetry and others' works, he was an extraordinary storyteller. During the last year of his life I captured many of his tales in prose poems using my memory and the cadence of his voice.

The series, included in my collected works, is titled "Words Wild With Bloom," after the last two lines in one of Max's poems.

"Forty years Bob's been away,

But his trees are wild with bloom today."

Thirty-six years Max has been away. But his words are "Wild With Bloom" today.

Max was full of grit and humor. For his birthday I'd like to share three poems that showcase these traits.

The first catches him as a young teen in a situation way over his head. The second poem finds him at the height of his poetic career traveling back and forth across the country reciting poetry in schools, universities and conferences. The last takes place at his beloved Frog Holler.

Poet Bard Terry Wooten has been performing and conducting writing workshops in schools for more than 30 years. He is also the creator of Stone Circle, a triple ring of boulders featuring poetry, storytelling and music on his property north of Elk Rapids. Learn more at www.terry-wooten.com.