Each year for the past 40 years, the English department has hosted a poetry reading by a nationally recognized poet in celebration of Theodore Roethke, and this year’s reading was by C. K. Williams. Because of the breadth of the literary community in Seattle, these readings are very popular and draw large numbers of people.
This year, the department added a new piece to the Roethke reading series by hosting a forum called “Roethke Remembered.” The day after the poetry reading, a number of Roethke’s students, colleagues, and fans gathered in Parrington Hall as panelists talked about their relationships with Roethke as a teacher, his impact on the literary world and their love for him and his work. Frances McCue, Director of Richard Hugo House, moderated the panel and kept it lively.
Phyllis Dorset, who met Roethke when she enrolled in one of his undergraduate classes in reading poetry, talked about her subsequent friendship with Roethke, his quirky but solid teaching techniques and his ability to cook.
Donna Gerstenberger, former department Chair, spoke about his contribution to the department, his relationships with other faculty and his legacy that carried forward through faculty appointments of his students, David Wagoner and Nelson Bentley.
Tess Gallagher talked about the significant contribution Roethke has made to poetry and to her own development as a writer. She attended his classes as a student right before he died. Similarly, William Dunlop, shared experiences of Roethke as colleague and early mentor.
Marjorie Hemphill described herself as Roethke’s “girl Friday” and she worked directly for him in the department, as did Gloria Campbell. Both recalled treasured anecdotes about his work habits and recalled the tragedy of his sudden death.
Following the panel presentations, a number of others, including David Fowler, Joan Swift, Cheri Tucker, and Marv Albert, spoke of their experiences as Roethke colleagues, students, and friends. The videotape of the event will be added to the Roethke archives as the forum added dimension to the poet whose name and impact are still evident 41 years after his death. The theme for next year’s forum has yet to be announced, but it will continue to look further into the influence of this critically acclaimed poet.