Friday, October 20, 2006

Roethke Pep Talk on the Poetry Workshop

Chilly Friday looking over notes for things.

This, from Theodore Roethke, stands as the most succinct statement of the value of a creative writing workshop that I’ve come across:

“A few people come together, establish an intellectual and emotional climate wherein creation is possible. They teach each other—that ideal condition of what was once called “progressive education.” They learn by doing. Something of the creative lost in childhood is recovered. The students (and teacher) learn a considerable something about themselves and the language.”

I would stress two aspects of Roethke’s remarks. First, the establishing of a climate, a space, where creation is possible. It’s a tonal issue, how the class is going to feel to the students. Poetry is the show, or should be the show, not us, not our personalities.

The second thing I’d like to stress is that all participants in a creative writing workshop can learn a valuable something about the language and about themselves. Or perhaps, blending it a bit, they (we) can learn about themselves (ourselves) in and through language. It's important for us to hear the words in front of us as “real presences,” to quote the title of a book by George Steiner that I’ve used in the past. The words on the page are instructions for performance, and the poems are only fully poems when they are read, when they are lived.


Only the Senses Sleep. Wayne Miller.


Greenland. Cracker.


At 10/21/2006 5:31 AM, Anonymous Shawn said...

I agree completely with this post. Except for the last sentence--I think. If by "read" you mean read aloud, then I have to disagree. Reading aloud certainly adds an element of drama to the poem, but does not make the poem come to life. Life is given by simply reading the poem--which you may have meant and thereby made this entire post useless. When a poem is read, the poem is the absolute show, not the reader, which is the goal of the workshop. When a poem is presented, we also get the personality of the poet through tone, rhythm, rate of reading, etc, which will forever color our own reading of the poem, leading us away from learning about ourselves through language and learning more about the poet than the poem.

Happy Homecoming!

At 10/21/2006 6:08 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Indeed, Shawn. By "read" here, I am thinking of having them read aloud, but not necessarily by the author.

I like to think of poems, not as the silent reading with your eyes, but rather the out loud reading with your voice.

Still, that doesn't have to be a reading with an audience. And certainly you are right that a very good reader can "performance it up" and thereby change the nature of the poem in workshop. It's always interesting to see that happen. It allows for another conversation: How does this poem change when read with the fright wig? Etc.


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