Visiting writer: Bill Fisher

As part of our Visiting Writer’s Program, Bill Fisher, an English instructor at Miami, joined us in mid-November to teach the upper unit and the intermediate unit some creative writing techniques.

Fisher had the upper unit read My Papa’s Waltz, a poem by Theodore Rothke. He asked them to first read the poem literally and think like a journalist, considering the who, what, why, when and where.

Then he asked them to consider the structure of the poem, explaining how the rhythm of a piece, based on such things as the number of syllables and rhymes, can affect its mood.
“The easy rhyme scheme of this poem helps pull you through faster and it all underpins the feeling Rothke wants to get across,” Fisher said.

Finally, he talked about how good poems almost always have a sense of ambivalence, forcing the reader to think more than one way about the possible meaning. In this piece, Fisher said, some might see child abuse, others might see a loving father.

My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Rothke

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

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