Friday, April 2, 2021

camouflage / a dance of beatings the boy endured

Above Roy R. Behrens, Papa's Waltz (© 2021). Digital montage.


Yesterday, I put up this blog post and montage (above) on The Poetry of Sight, my more generic blog about vision, design, and the creative process. But it occurs to me that it might also be appropriate to repost it here, since Theodore Roethke's language has everything to do with camouflage, with concealed and embedded components.


The title of the montage reproduced above (I sometimes call them “visual poems”) is intended as an homage to what some people regard as Theodore Roethke’s finest work, a sixteen-line autobiographical poem, titled “My Papa’s Waltz” (c1942). It is beautifully constructed, filled with engagement and gesture—and is yet at the same time disturbing in its beneath-the-surface suggestions.

Roethke, as a poet should, makes apt use of figures of speech, and we (the readers) are left to decide what to make of it. Does “papa’s waltz” simply describe an innocent dance, in which an inebriated father is engaged in ritualistic fun with his son, a small boy. Or, as certain components suggest, is it not a literal waltz, but instead a frightening memory of dance-like beatings the boy endured at the hands of a drunken parent?

You must read the entire poem, which is available online at the website of the Poetry Foundation. At the same, it also helps to read the article about this poem on Wikipedia, and to learn about the life of Theodore Roethke.