Raymond Carver’s 75th Birthday Event

Scroll below the biographies of these two esteemed Washington State poets, Raymond Carver and Theodore Roethke, to find downloadable poems that allow you to take part in the celebration too.

A downloadable poster for you to help publicize your Carver/Roethke event

Tess Gallagher and Peninsula College have joined forces to present several weeks of celebration, readings and workshops in Port Angeles during the month of May, 2013, culminating in A Rouse for Ray on his birthday, May 25.

Details about the Port Angeles event are listed at:

Your group can join in the celebration by holding a reading of your own during the months of May or June. May 25th is also the birthday of Northwest poet Theodore Roethke, born in 1908, one of the first and best teachers of Carver’s widow and fellow writer, Tess Gallagher.  Each year, Friends of Theodore Roethke hold a birthday celebration in his birthplace, Saginaw, Michigan. You can view those events at:

Under the sponsorship of Tess Gallagher, Peninsula College, and Poet Laureate, Kathleen Flenniken, you are invited to design and give your own reading, celebrating these two great Washington voices of poetry:  Raymond Carver and Theodore Roethke.

Who:  All groups across Washington are invited to design and hold a Carver/Roethke reading.  These groups include:  libraries; book groups; poetry venues and series; elementary, high school and college classrooms; individuals meeting in their homes.

What:  Present a reading for a wider, invited audience or just for yourselves during the months of May and June.  Use the paired poems listed below, or choose your own poems from the poets’ collected works:  The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke (Doubleday, 1975); All of Us: The Collected Poems Raymond Carver (Vintage, 2000).

When and Where:  anytime during the months of May and June, 2013, anywhere in Washington.

How:  Any group, no matter how loosely formed, can participate.  Simply design and hold your reading.  Please send information about your reading to Alice Derry at, and she will get it posted to this web page and at the Raymond Carver celebration web site at Peninsula College in Port Angeles.

Questions and help:  Poet Alice Derry, Gallagher’s friend and neighbor, can answer questions or give additional help at the above email.


Raymond Carver was born on May 25, 1938, in Clatskanie, Oregon, but raised in Yakima, the son of a saw-mill worker and a waitress.  Although his writing and teaching took him throughout the U.S., his subject matter is tied to the state where he grew up.   He wrote, fished and lived much of the last ten years of his life in Port Angeles with poet, essayist and short story writer, Tess Gallagher, who eventually became his wife.  Esteemed as one of the greatest American short stories writers, “the American Chekhov,” Carver was also a poet of great stature.  His first published piece and his last book, A New Path to the Waterfall, were poems. In 1983 he received the Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award.  He died in 1988 at the age of 50 and is buried in Ocean View Cemetery near Port Angeles. His collected poems, All of Us, was published after his death, in 1996 with an introduction by Tess Gallagher.

Theodore Roethke was born on May 25, 1908, in Saginaw, Michigan.  Roethke is one of the most respected of American poets.  Over the course of his career he garnered many prizes for his poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1953; two National Book Awards; and the Bollingen Prize.  Roethke started writing in the Michigan of his birth, and many of his poems take their inspiration from his father’s greenhouse and love of plants.  In 1947, however, he began teaching at the University of Washington.  Much of The Far Field, containing his great, later poems, was inspired by our coastal landscapes.  Among the brightest students in the last class he taught in 1963 at the university, was Tess Gallagher, who would later become the widow of Raymond Carver and an esteemed writer herself.  Roethke died that same year.  Learn more about Roethke at the web site noted above.


Consider presenting poems in pairs as suggested below:

Carver                                                          Roethke

My Father in his Twenty-Second Year, page 7        —Otto, page 216

Wind, page 187                                                        —Mid-Country Blow, page 11

Your Dog Dies, page 6                                            —The Geranium, page 220

Sleeping, page 190                                                —The Waking, page 104

The Best Time, page 191                                     —Wish for a Young Wife, page 210

Where Water Comes Together With Other Water, page 63                                                                                                                                —Section 3 of The Far Field, page 194

The River, page 190                                          —The Meadow, page 202

The Trestle, page 136                                       —Otto, page 216

A Poem Not Against Songbirds, page 13           —No Bird, page 16

A Walk, page 88 or Kafka’s Watch, page 182    —Night Journey, page 32

A Forge, and a Scythe, page 97                        —last two parts of The Dream, page 114

A Poem Not Against Songbirds, page 133        —Siskins, page 146

Distress Sale, page 5                                        —Sale, page 30

The White Field, page 209                                 —Section 2 of The Far Field, page 193

Click on the poem titles below to view and download PDFs.
Raymond Carver’s poems are from All of Us: Collected Poems (copyright 1996, Tess Gallagher).
Permission for use of work from the Collected Poems of  Theodore Roethke by Doubleday, a division of Random House Inc. New York, 1975.

The River and The Meadow

A Walk and Night Journey


You Don’t Know What Love Is

Your Dog Dies and The Geranium

My Father and Otto

Not Against Songbirds and No Bird

Not Against Songbirds and Siskins

Shiftless, Simple, Money

Sleeping and The Waking

The Car, Fear, Sleeping

The Pen and NyQuil

The Trestle and Otto

The White Field and The Far Field, Sect 2

Where Water Comes Together and The Far Field, Sect 3

A Forge and a Scythe and The Dream


Distress Sale and Sale

Kafka’s Watch and Night Journey

Wind and Mid-Country Blow

Best Time and Young Wife


Favorite Poems

You could also organize your reading around “favorite poems” as chosen by Tess Gallagher.

For Carver:  Hummingbird, 278; Gravy, 292; For Tess, 138; Jean’s TV, 155; The Mail, 148; The Cobweb, 145; Asia, 222; In A Marine Light Near Sequim, Washington, 130; A Haircut, 127; Cherish, 292; Proposal, 290; What the Doctor Said, 289; The Gift, 223; Simple, 215; The Pen, 198; Shiftless,175; Earwigs, 172; Nyquil, 173; Money, 78; Locking Yourself Out, Then Trying to Get Back In,73; Woolworth’s, 1954, 53; You Don’t Know What Love Is, 16.

Alice’s choices for Carver:  The Best Time of Day, 191; The River, 190; Earwigs, 172; The Gift, 223; Grief, 106; Harley’s Swans, 107; Happiness, 65; Two Worlds, 230; Caution, 260; No Need, 293.

Tess’ and Alice’s choices for Roethke:  Elegy for Jane, 98; The Bat, 15; My Papa’s Waltz, 43; North American Sequence, 181ff.; Root Cellar, 36; Moss-Gathering, 38; Child on Top of the Greenhouse, 40; Frau Bauman, Frau Schmidt and Frau Schwartz, 42; Elegy, 215; I Knew A Woman, 122; Meditation at Oyster River, 184; Journey to the Interior, 187; The Far Field, 193; The Rose, 196; In a Dark Time, 231.

For High School Students

Tess Gallagher recommends the following Carver poems for high school students:

Shiftless,175(does have reference to smoking); Woolworth’s, 1954, 53; Money,78; Simple, 215; The Pen, 198; NyQuil,173; You Don’t Know What Love Is, 16; The Car, 151; Fear, 60; Sleeping, 190.

She recalls how two of her students at Whitman did a combined shout out of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and “I have never forgotten how good that is. You might suggest this: two students pairing off and taking different lines of that poem and performing it orally.”

Considering “Sleeping” and “The Waking”:  a lesson outline from Alice

 Roethke is altogether a more formal poet than Carver, and “The Waking,” one of the best villanelles in English, is one of his most formal poems. (Villanelle:  French, song-like form, in three-line stanzas and a closing four-line stanza with two refrain lines, repeated in the pattern shown in Roethke’s poem.)  Carver, on the other hand, is the master of the colloquial, using the average speech patterns of the average person and turning them into poetry (condensed, intense, with many implied meanings).  “Sleeping” is more formal than many Carver poems, making use of cataloguing, as well as rhetorical repetition.  Lines beginning with:  He slept, On, Slept, In alternate throughout the poem.  When death enters the poem, the repetitive pattern abruptly changes.

In teaching poems to students, I like to begin by reading the poems aloud to them.  A practiced reader can help people understand a poem just by reading well.  My reading also puts me on the line, instead of them.  Then I ask for student volunteers to read the poems, so that we will have the advantage of hearing the poems several times, a necessity for understanding/experiencing most poems.  It’s nice to feel the poems in different voices as well.  Next, I ask if there are any words, phrases or references students do not understand.  Since poems often pivot on the meaning of a single word, it’s important to make sure every unclear word is explained.  I do not use this time to “throw back” questions to students (Well, what do you think it means?) but answer as factually and clearly as I can any question asked.  This helps build courage to face what a poem “means.”

Now, I open discussion on what the poems are saying to students.  It’s important to remember that a poem, while it doesn’t mean “just anything” or “whatever the reader wants it to mean” has a wide range of meanings in the net it casts.  I’ve learned a great deal about poems by listening carefully to what my students offer, most of whom have read far less poetry than I have.  The offering of many minds is very important to poetry.  Within reason, I accept everything offered.  If I feel a student is reading his/her own life into a poem or inventing something, I might ask, “What line gave you that feeling?”  or “How do the poem’s details ‘prove’ that?”  If students don’t self-correct, I will suggest that that interpretation is not borne out by the poem’s details.  Generally, other students do all this correcting, and I don’t have to.  Gradually what the poem represents, or extends out to us, or invites us to believe, or questions us about, emerges.  Let the process be long and extensive.  Don’t rush.  Let silence fall, out of which another thought emerges.

“The Waking” is not an easy poem.  There are lines I still don’t really “understand,” but I like them anyway, for their words or sounds.  But the “gist” is not difficult:  life is full of mystery, and we learn by going where we have to go (with the emphasis on have) because of our background, our personality, our parents, our children, our job, our loves, etc.

Like many Carver poems, “Sleeping” is deceptively accessible.  When one considers all the places the speaker sleeps, though, a life is being told, not unlike “where we have to go.”  In addition, sleep itself and its eerie resemblance to death, are subjects of the poem.  Sleep enables the body and mind to be awake and alive; it also takes up a good deal of our lives.  While sleep can feel like a blessing and insomnia a curse, many people fight sleep at night because they are afraid, like Hamlet, of “what dreams may come”, or they fear the dark.  Small children famously do not want to fall asleep, give way, give up, give in.  After a loved one dies, sleep is often impossible, and waking after sleep often means experiencing the loss all over again.

Once some of these ideas surface, you can direct students to thinking about how the poems are similar and how they are different.  You can then turn to the use of sound, a major force in “The Waking” and subtly important in “Sleeping.”  You can talk about rhyme and absence of rhyme.  You can talk about more formal speech versus more informal.  You can talk about “the beat” in each poem.

At the end, I always ask students, “Was reading these poems worth your time?”  I accept the answer “no” without question.  But as students discuss the worth of a poem, more about its meaning emerges.  During this part of the discussion, I accept whatever surfaces. How we feel about art, after all, is a matter of taste, and the only way to develop a sense of taste is to honestly admit what appeals to us and what doesn’t, at the same time “defending” those choices.  While I might try to draw students further in their thinking, I listen carefully to their choices.  A comment to students like, “Well, you just don’t understand good literature,” or even a tone which says this, will kill all further interest in poetry.

For Elementary Students

Theodore Roethke has a number of poems written specifically for children.  These can be found in the collected poems, beginning on page 107.

Song for the Squeezebox

  • Dinky
  • The Cow
  • The Serpent
  • The Sloth
  • The Lady and the Bear

These poems can be used K-4.  If you are teaching these grades, you could do the exercise with “Dinky” below, even if you don’t include the Carver material.

While Raymond Carver didn’t write specifically for children, a number of his poems will appeal to upper elementary students, including:

  • The Car
  • Sleeping

You might introduce “Dinky” and “The Car” to your elementary students by reading them aloud several times or having the children read them.  Repetition, an important element for poetry throughout time, plays a key role in both poems.  Both poems also make use of the rhetorical device of repeating lines with variations.  You could ask children to point those out.  Carver’s poem makes use of listing or cataloguing, a technique wonderfully developed by Walt Whitman. Roethke’s poem makes use of rhyme.  You could ask children to point out the rhymes or to talk about the long catalogue Carver develops.  “Dinky” may represent bad things that happen in our lives, the chaos and commotion that seem to come no matter how well we act.  You might ask children who they think Dinky is: they may have some other excellent suggestions.  Carver’s poem also makes use of bad things that happen.  You might ask children to speak of these in their own lives. Most of us have “bad car” stories.

In Saginaw, Michigan, where Theodore Roethke’s birthday is celebrated every year, the Friends of the poet ask children to draw pictures of “Dinky.”  You could apply the same idea to “The Car.”  If you decide to try this project with your children, you could display your children’s pictures in your school to celebrate the common birthday of the two poets.  If you wish, you could send these to Alice Derry, to be displayed during the Raymond Carver birthday month celebration in Port Angeles.

Here’s another idea from Tess Gallagher:   I wondered if it might be fun to have the kids, à la Carver’s “The Car,” to write their own “broken-down-things” poem? It could be almost any element or object really, i.e.:

  • the eggbeaters that locked up while making the whipped cream
  •  the shoes that wore a hole in my favorite socks
  • the glasses that cracked when I looked at myself in the mirror
  • the chimney that burst when Santa came down it
  • the front door that fell off its hinges when the piano arrived
  • the front lawn that broke out in dandelions after I mowed it
  • the bike that got two flat tires so I had to carry it past the home of a girl I was sweet on
  • Children can brainstorm to think of their own lists.  Or you can do this as a group.




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