Inside the mind of a poet

Allison Remcheck

Robert L. Carothers’ creative process extends to children

Poet Robert L. Carothers has used his master’s and doctorate in English to develop his poetic style.

Credit: Andrew popik

The job of a writer is finding truth in the world, creating an image from what is perceived and then translating these thoughts into words.

For poet Robert L. Carothers, this imagery created his career.

Carothers said he believed a true writer is:

“One that can find a piece of the world’s truth and make that truth felt and partially understood by a reader. Part of what writing is, is naming the world.”

This Western Pennsylvania native said listening to his mother read to him as a child gave him a love for language and imagination.

“I always had a pretty active fantasy life,” Carothers said, referring to his childhood. “I’ve always had language going around in my head — always crafting stories.”

From 1965 to 1969, Carothers came to Kent State to improve his way with words, earning a master’s degree and a doctorate in English. While at the university he began his career as a poet.

The poet Dylan Thomas was his inspiration for his poetic style.

“I was very much into poetry that had a strong musical quality to it,” he said.

Although Carothers became a well-recognized poet, he said his early work was nothing to brag about.

“When I started taking classes on it, I saw a lot of what I was doing was just junk,” he said.

Soon, Carothers would learn how to show his ideas instead of telling them. He said in poetry, it’s important to tell the story using things, not ideas.

“You have to create an image,” he said. “There’s a difference from saying I’m lonely, than I walked to the mail box three times today.”

Carothers said he gets ideas for poems in small pieces.

“I’ll have some little flash of an idea,” he said.

It can be a rhythm or a song — and then he waits for the idea to fully develop.

“Then I would write it all down at one time,” he said. “Very often I wrote the best version of it the first time I wrote it.”

For other Kent State students who would like to become poets, Carothers said, “The advice that I’d give anybody is to read.”

And also observe ones’ surroundings.

“You have to see what’s actually there,” he said. “It’s almost like a Zen process. You’ve got to be able to focus.”

Writing poetry is more than ranting on paper, Carothers said.

“You can’t do that by dumping out your emotions — reveal in things,” he said.

Carothers is best known for a poem called “Muskrat.” A poem about the strong versus the weak, written during the time of the Vietnam War — and a poem people could interpret freely.

Now, Carothers is the president of the University of Rhode Island, and his goals have shifted slightly from poetry to juvenile correction.

“I’ve gotten very interested in the problems of juvenile correction,” he said. “They (juvenile delinquents) don’t have the education to participate in society from mistakes they made early on.

“When they come out, they know at that particular moment they’re going to go back to where they were — end up dead on the street — whatever.”

Carothers is working to start a juvenile post-correction high school, intended to help teach kids and keep them from going back to jail.

The high school is going to focus on “learning by doing.”

“I believe that you need to connect the learning to experience,” Carothers said.

This program intends to teach students the skills to continue to a college or pursue a vocational education.

Abu Bakr, executive assistant to Carothers and director of planning services and professional development, works closely with Carothers and the juvenile correctional program.

Bakr said their vision is a medium-sized school with a small student to teacher ratio. The school year will be modified and lengthened to accommodate students who come at different parts of the school year.

Carothers played an important role in developing the idea for the correctional facility, Bakr said.

“He’s so supportive of creating the school,” he said. “He certainly recognized there was a need for it to happen. Every step of the way he’s done what is necessary.”

Bakr said they hope the community will become involved with the correctional program, and feels he and Carothers will achieve their goal.

“Obviously, with him being such a champion for it — I think we’ll be able to do it,” he said.

Contact features reporter Allison Remcheck at [email protected].