On Poetry and Craft by Theodore Roethke
Posted on August 24, 2012
This book is somewhat of a departure from other books I’ve reviewed. It’s hard to classify–something akin to a compendium of knowledge regarding the craft of poetry, essays on learning and teaching, and pithy aphorisms that seem to hold (like prismatic gems) dearly attained wisdom.
Roethke is a pretty canonical poet. If you’ve ever taken a 20th Century poetry course, you’ve probably come across a few of his poems: “My Papa’s Waltz” and “In a Dark Time” spring to mind. You might be tempted to write Roethke off as a minor poetic figure who had a few hits (the poetic equivalent of 98 Degrees). Don’t. Roethke has a lot of exceptional things to say about both the nuts-and-bolts of poetic composition and teaching. He’s also a really great writer, so if you enjoy reading fabulously worded prose, pick this book up.
I’m not going to make this post a long one. As Roethke states: “One has said a thing as best one can in the poem in usually a dramatic context–why debase it or water it down to a didactic prose for a lazy modern audience?” In this spirit, I’ve made a recording of myself reading a particularly stirring passage of Roethke’s book. It comes from a chapter titled, “On Identity.”