Friday, May 14, 2010

Poetry Friday: Why Shouldn't I Sing to Myself?

While browsing my poetry shelves this morning, I ran my fingers across an old copy of "Straw For the Fire." It's a compilation of bits and pieces from Theodore Roethke's notebooks. Roethke is one of my favorite poets, and understanding the poetic process of poets I like is generally eye-opening, often inspiring, and always fun.

Roethke left 277 notebooks behind. Most of them were spiral bound notebooks that he filled with random phrases, bits of dialog, jokes, and all sorts of fragments. Whatever was on his mind. He also left about 8,000 loose sheets of paper. Apparently he moved from the notebook to loose sheets attached to a clipboard as he began to compose. David Wagoner, who selected and arranged the bits in the book, says that Roethke "let his mind rove freely, moment by moment in the early stages of composition, from the practical to the transcendental, from the lame and halting to the beautiful, from the comic to the terrible, from the literal to the surreal, seizing whatever he might from he language, but mulling over and taking sounding of every syllable."

Here are a couple of bits and pieces from Roethke's process:

All day, all day the wind whirled me out of myself.
I saw the sea rolling there in the field...

Lack-love, sing some sweetness into your bones.

The stony garden of the spirit grows
Things never harvested in ordered rows.

Should I forage the stones like a bird
Picking for seeds?...

Stick out your can, here comes a lesson plan.

Acting one's age is just a form.

Why is poetry scary?

I learn by the way of the fool,
The moth, and the child,
My two eyes embracing all,
Ingenuous, wild.

What you should know is that none of these bits ever made it into one of Roethke's published poems. He culled back through his old notebooks often, looking for pieces that were usable, thoughts that he wanted to recapture.

Are you inspired yet?

For more Poetry Friday posts, stop in at Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup.


  1. Interesting fellow, Mr. R!
    Glad to hear you had a great trip to see the grands! I have a book giveawy going on at my blog. Pop over when you have a spare minute and check it ouot!

  2. Thanks for reading, Gail. I'll just hop right on over and see you at your spot.

  3. I am! I love the variety of these little bits--thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks for stopping, Laura. So glad you enjoyed these bite-size poetic thoughts. They make me want to get out my notebook and record everything.