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In The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer’s Craft, Kim Stafford writes about sharing Theodore Roethke’s notebooks and fragments with his students. I don’t know much about Roethke’s work, but I am always interested in writers’ notebooks. In fact this whole series is an extended look at my writing practices and notebooks.

The library had a copy of Straw for the Fire. Excellent title–we’re off to a good start. The collection is edited by David Wagoner. Here are the first two sentences of his introduction:

At the time of his death in August 1963, Theodore Roethke left behind 277 notebooks–most of them spiral notebooks–full of a miscellany of

  • fragments of poetry,
  • aphorisms,
  • jokes,
  • memos,
  • journal entries,
  • random phrases,
  • bits of dialogue,
  • literary and philosophical commentary,
  • rough drafts of whole poems,
  • quotations, etc.

…and 8,306 loose sheets (as a rule these represented a second stage in his method of composition: a movement from notebook to clipboard as he began to track a poem into its final multiple versions,

…after which he would move on to typed drafts, revising heavily.)

Let’s just pause for a moment and honor that very large number of notebooks and pages! And the wonderful miscellany that his notebooks contained. I fill notebooks fairly fast. But it would take me 69 years to approach Roethke’s stacks!

What really caught my attention though was the beginning stages of revision that were described–from notebook, to loose leaf on a clipboard, to typed drafts.

Oddly enough, this is exactly the process I follow. I even have a clipboard. I write what Holly Wren Spaulding calls zero drafts in composition books. Then every season I read through the notebooks and mark pages that I want to pull out. Then I copy these by hand onto yellow loose leaf pages.

Why yellow pages? In the basement I found a ream of yellow paper that had been rescued when a nearby school burned down. Straw for the fire, indeed!

My personal process, that developed haphazardly and accidentally, suddenly had a level of legitimacy.

How is revision a part of your process?

Click here to see all the Listening to My Life :: Homeschooling an MFA in Poetry posts.


  1. My method of revision, “…I learn by going where I have to go.” (T Roethke).

    I really appreciate your alerting us to “Straw…” I intend to check it out!

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