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A Swallow Press Book

A Field Guide to the Poetry of Theodore Roethke

Edited by William Barillas
Foreword by Edward Hirsch

“[T]his new anthology’s many critical voices suit Roethke’s multi-faceted work…. A Field Guide should bring new readers closer to the liveliness of Roethke’s poems, which will become their own.”

Zach Savich, Poetry Northwest

“[T]he Field Guide brings together all the elements needed for a sophisticated understanding of Roethke, his contexts, and his art. It presents leading historical and contemporary critical approaches to his poetry, and it suggests areas deserving further study.”

Philip A. Greasley, MidAmerica

“This book draws readers closer to Roethke’s poetry than any other single study has. Recommended.”

Barry Wallenstein, Choice

“Barillas’s thoroughly diverse and democratic reassessment of Roethke’s radically diverse oeuvre resituates Roethke’s high and proper place in American poetry…. A Field Guide to the Poetry of Theodore Roethke has altered and deepened my thinking, not just about Roethke but Poetry itself.”

Alexander Long, Poetry International Online

A constellation of essays that reanimates the work of this pivotal twentieth-century American poet for a new century.

This volume is the first to reconsider Roethke’s work in terms of the expanded critical approaches to literature that have emerged since his death in 1963. Editor William Barillas and over forty contributors, including highly respected literary scholars, critics, and writers such as Peter Balakian, Camille Paglia, Jay Parini, and David Wojahn, collectively make a case for Roethke’s poetry as a complete, unified, and evolving body of work. The accessible essays employ a number of approaches, including formalism, ecocriticism, reader-response, and feminist critique to explicate the poetics, themes, and the biographical, historical, cultural, and literary contexts of Roethke’s work.

William Barillas is the author of The Midwestern Pastoral: Place and Landscape in Literature of the American Heartland, also from Ohio University Press, as well as many essays in scholarly and literary journals. His areas of focus include American literature, particularly literature of the Midwest, with special concern for poetry, environmental literature, and Latinx literature.   More info →


Review in American Studies, Vol. 60, No. 1 (2021)


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Retail price: $36.95, T.
Release date: December 2020
364 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Release date: December 2020
364 pages
Rights:  World

Additional Praise for A Field Guide to the Poetry of Theodore Roethke

“This ingeniously structured ‘field guide’ to Roethke’s poetry reintroduces us to a body of work that changed the sound and sense of twentieth-century poetry. Timely, engaging, and stylistically diverse essays consider Roethke’s poems from new angles, and situate him as an early practitioner of ecopoetry. These reappraisals remind us of the power of Roethke’s ‘weird word-music,’ his mastery of the greenhouse’s ‘alien textures,’ and the reach of his ‘defamiliarizing’ poetic language, which influenced Sylvia Plath, Robert Bly, James Wright, Seamus Heaney, and so many others. This is an indispensable collection for a new generation of Roethke’s readers.”

Heather Clark, author of Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath

“What a lovely model this book sets: a gathering of short essays by skilled readers on a great poet whose work is ripe for rediscovery. William Barillas has devised an elegant format that allows many voices to sound in a variety of registers, while keeping the poems themselves constantly in the foreground. This book offers scholars, poets, teachers, and students a wide array of paths through the inexhaustibly rich terrain of Roethke’s poems, traversing their vibrant renderings of both inner and outer landscapes, their sustained dialogue with poetic tradition, and their prescient engagement with environmental concerns.”

Roger Gilbert, author of Walks in the World: Representation and Experience in Modern American Poetry

“These essays, written from multiple perspectives, make a welcome and accessible companion to Roethke’s Collected Poems, while making the case for exploring the full range of the poet’s work.”

Christopher MacGowan, author of Twentieth-Century American Poetry

“A long overdue re-examination and celebration of the incandescent work of poet Theodore Roethke, bringing his work to a whole new generation of readers. Highly recommended.”

Nicholas O’Connell, author of On Sacred Ground: The Spirit of Place in Pacific Northwest Literature

“Roethke’s large, multitudinous body of work, while never out of print, has somehow gotten lost in the past decades. This book, expertly edited by William Barillas, should help rectify that odd neglect. It puts his work in perspective.”

Edward Hirsch, from the Foreword

“One of the great strengths of this book is its reconsideration of Roethke’s work in the light of critical developments such as ecocriticism, feminist criticism, and reader response theory. This is an extremely timely and important collection.”

Sally Connolly, author of Grief & Meter: Elegies for Poets after Auden and Ranches of Isolation: Transatlantic Poetics

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