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The Cat Outside His Door: Poems After Roethke contains 61 new and selected poems from five decades of poet Fred Wolven’s work. Herein the author explores minute and overpowering elements of nature while examining the development of one’s psyche with vivid depictions of the wonders of our environment.
Just before Theodore Roethke’s death in 1963 Wolven viewed In a Dark Time, a film of Roethke’s performance of his poems in the Puget Sound area. During the film, a cat sat outside his door, thus that cat and Roethke are subjects of many poems in this collection.
In this lyrical-narrative journey through six series of poems one learns how writers impact each other and in the process how their life and writing become transformed. This volume is as close as poetry comes to providing a biographical non-autobiographical study by a current poet of an award winning 20th century master poet. In the process Wolven has created a volume of fascinating poems with a quiet connection between a cat, two poets, and their—our earth.
“Wolven is expressing his homage to Roethke, so we the readers can participate in how an abundant and insightful life can transform another life, and how we can be transformed by the transformed. ...ardent and attentive perception of Roethke attuned to the minutiae, its glory and grandness, of nature.”
–Duane Locke, prize winning poet, photographer, artist, and Professor Emeritus
Fred Wolven is a native of Theodore Roethke’s home state, Michigan. The author discovered Roethke’s poems in literary periodicals in 1957. Caught by Roethke’s use of nature and his struggle to understand himself in his poems, Wolven began a life-time study of his work. Living for a time in Saginaw, Roethke’s hometown, near where he grew up, his family florist shop and greenhouses, and the fields he roamed as a youngster, Wolven took in Roethke’s Midwestern roots and his fascination with nature. Wolven also realized Roethke’s deep impact on contemporary poets and in his own writing as Wolven’s poetry reflects a deep appreciation of nature and efforts to grasp more fully fundamentals of his own self in searching for the meaning of self.
In an extended teaching career, the author used Roethke’s work and ideas. Thus, Wolven’s writing evidences Roethke’s influence in his use of nature and a probing for a clearer ID of himself. And nearly five decades later such remains a strong influence in Wolven’s writing.
“I endeavor to live and work as a poet by this Irish proverb, ‘May you live out your life free of want and may you not want as long as you live.’ Whether I am working on the lines of a new poem–struggling with the phrasing, trying to catch the just right language, or twisting and turning lines and images until the rhythm is as natural as possible, I have learned to focus my activity all the while tempering what I’m about with a sense of humor. After all, I find it to be essential that when I can laugh at myself, I am both able to enjoy life and create more easily no matter how difficult the task. I remain ever thankful that I am yet able to continue working, though I never consider creating poems work. It is more like the feeling I experienced during my once in a lifetime hot air balloon ride—an eternal joy—Now, I can soar, I can soar!”
1908 - 1963
Critically acclaimed American poet widely regarded as among the most accomplished and influential poets of his generation. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and twice won National Book Award for Poetry. In 2012, he was featured on a United States postage stamp as one of ten great 20th Century American poets. (Source: Wikipedia)
The Cat Outside His Door, # 7
Today it is hard to recall exactly just why that cat
sat outside that door while Roethke pranced inside
for the cameras, rattling off selection upon selection.
Amazing as it seemed then listening to his singing,
or nearly chanting, as it seemed, he spouted forth
love poem, family narrative, darkly tuned lyric,
and even Puget Sound and Michigan-grounded
life-like glimpses of tree, fern, rose, and bird. Oh,
he was very clear-throated, lumberjack nurtured, and
slightly mono-toned, so nattily attired, and mentally
focused, that he invoked the tradition of the medieval
court jester, the chanticleer spreading the word, or the
apprentice craftsman fashioning swords for a prince.
How clearly I recall his movements, his introductions
for each poem—being none of them over nor under-
stated or presented. A virtual performer was this
poet before his cat—that one waiting patiently outside
for its master enacting his singular chorus lines inside.
There Was a Cat Outside His Door, # 9
Whenever I think about it, I very nearly see the cat sitting
still outside his door. And I usually then pause to ponder
on the wonder of it all—how a cat, long dead, appears
so vividly within my dreams, within my vision, within
my psyche for therein he seems to linger. When I was
a child I wandered through fields, alongside creeks, in
and out of woodlots, searching out minnows, water spiders,
chipmunks, cardinals, jays, and the stray occasional fox.
When I discovered Roethke’s flowers, his meadow mouse,
the slow moving sloth, the strong pull of nature’s lore,
I entered another world, one I was already quite a part of.
The tiny blue bells, the dapper black-eyed Susan, the delicate
Queen Anne’s lace, and quaint Indian Pipes, all within my
view, within my woodlot and field walks, opened nature’s
seam—providing an avenue into my connections, my role,
my responsibilities to our environment, to ourselves.
One of our cats once calling a former house home left in
time, moving into a neighbor’s because too many other cats
took up residence in our abode. Not so Roethke’s cat.
Paperback ISBN: 9780990676850
e-book ISBN: 9780990676805
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