Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week writer and educator Emily Schulten is joining us to discuss the work of fellow poet Theodore Roethke, writing on grief, and first encounters. As always, thank you for tuning in.
Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: How and when did you first discover Roethke’s work?
Emily Schulten: I imagine my first encounter with Roethke were in graduate school. At least that’s when his work impacted me such that it has stayed with me. There are some poets who can do this, who have this power to stick with the reader in her daily life, sometimes in the background and sometimes the foreground, but there consistently.
AH: Roethke was such an inspiration for many, from former students to Sylvia Plath. How has his work inspired you as a writer?
ES: Roethke’s use of rhythm is so musical. The heaviness that he is able to create in tone pairs with these earth images to haunt the reader and even to contribute to his mythmaking. This musicality and myth-making inspire me as a writer, as does the ability to consume the reader with his creation of atmosphere.
AH: Why did you choose these poems? What drew you to them specifically?
ES: Roethke is a grief poet. More than that, he is able to take grief and use it to transcend himself and to make sense of his grief. These poems are emblematic of the grief that inspired so much of Roethke’s work, the relationship he had with his father in both life and death. (A connection we see that Plath was particularly inspired by.) “Root Cellar” and “The Lost Son (Part 1, The Flight)” approach this grief in strikingly different ways, but with much the same outcome. “Root Cellar” depends so much on the greenhouse imagery to convey the emotion the speaker feels in this place that represents his father, and “The Lost Son” is a more inward journey and interrogation for the speaker. These poems illustrate well Roethke’s breadth as well as his use of sound and image.
AH: Do you have any news to share?
ES: I’m eagerly anticipating November’s release of my second collection of poems, The Way a Wound Becomes a Scar, from Kelsay Books.
Theodore Roethke was an American poet from the mid-twentieth century. After his father’s death and uncle’s suicide, he would become an educator who taught many giants in American poetry: Sylvia Plath, Carolyn Kizer, and so many more. During his lifetime he won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry and the National Book Award for two different collections.
Read more about him and his work here.
Read his poem “The Storm.”
Find his collected poems at Penguin Random House.
Emily Schulten is the author of two collections of poetry, The Way a Wound Becomes a Scar (Kelsay Books, November 2021) and Rest in Black Haw (New Plains P). Her work appears in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Colorado Review, The Missouri Review, and Tin House, among others. Schulten earned her MA from Western Kentucky University and her PhD from Georgia State University. She is a professor of English and creative writing at The College of the Florida Keys.
Find her website here.
Purchase her collection Rest in Black Haw.
Read her poem “Navigating the Afterlife” in Salamander.
Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist and writer. She has had work appear in Barren Magazine, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She is the Co-Editor in Chief at both Mud Season Review and Juven Press, and reads for EX/POST Magazine. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com