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.

On Poetry and Craft by Theodore Roethke

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.”