Remediation: My Steer’s Waltz

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Introduction/Background I selected to remediate Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” as we have been discussing it in terms of literary meaning in ENGL 7721. One of the main talking points in regards to this poem is that most modern day readers believe that it is a tale of an intoxicated father physically abusing his child (lots of discussion on whether the child is male or female). However, earlier audiences did not speculate violence at all, but rather just a nice little evening dance between a father and his child. Why the change? Sheridan D. Blau explains, “before the mid-eighties, ideas about abuse and dysfunctional families and discussions of alcoholism in one’s family were not part of the public discourse” (2003). With that in mind, consider how one might have viewed this poem in the 1950’s, 1990’s, and today.

My Papa’s Waltz

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.

Theodore Roethke (1908-1963)

In my initial reading (and mostly now), I certainly saw the poem as a story of abuse. It would be nice to see it as just an innocent dance, but being a millennial, I suppose my mind did not stand much of a chance on settling on that sort of interpretation (too many “After School Specials”). Words such as— whiskey, death, romped, not unfrown, battered, knuckle, buckle, beat, and palm strongly lend to the case of the poem’s predicted violence.

My Remediation I chose to use Screencast-O-Matic for this assignment as I wanted to experiment with a different video recording platform. I wanted one that was free and would permit me to produce a MULTIMODAL TEXT with the inclusion of video, the recording of my voice and soundtrack. The free version permits minimal editing, but I did not find any to be necessary. Out of all the platforms/tools/apps that I have experimented with so far….this was by far the easiest! Affordances I would like to create an additional project with Screencast-O-Matic to try out the screen capture function as I only used the webcam function for this creation. The tool allows you to use both simultaneously. The free version permits recordings lasting up to 15 minutes and has a closed-captioning option. Constraints The only downsides were that the background music was not as loud as I had hoped for and I could not embed the video on this site. I had to upload it to YouTube in order to present it to you here. Screencast-O-Matic Users also have to subscribe to the pay version in order to feature other multimedia text in their recordings and to alter the speed of the video. Without further ado…ladies and gentlemen…My Steer’s Waltz...

Soundtrack courtesy of:


Okay…I know…that got kind of weird. It was definitely TAKING A RISK!

Because I interpret “My Papa’s Waltz” as a story of violence and abuse, I wanted to capture that in this remediation. However, I did not want to just straight up declare that as the only interpretation. As a result, I decided to “cast” stuffed animals as the three mentioned characters. The Steer as The Father, The Deer as The Child, and The Dalmatian as The Mother. While I am having the stuffed animals do things that could be construed as a literal interpretation of violent acts, because of the waltz music and silliness of this cast of characters, there is an ambiguity left to the work. While using stuffed animals may make a difficult topic such as child abuse easier to handle, others may think of actual animals and struggle with the “suggested” content as much as if it were done with human portrayals. Luckily, using the mode of video grants continued uncertainty as far as interpretation is concerned, as shared by Jones and Hafner, “images tend to be more ‘polysemous’, that is, they are capable of sending numerous messages at the same time” (2012). While it seems on the surface that the Steer character is intoxicated and beating the Deer character, it remains uncertain to the viewer and perhaps the characters are just goofing around or putting on a show for the Dalmatian character? So while I see the original text being about abuse, I wanted to leave my remediation open to different interpretations based on continued changes in public discourse and the consumers’ life experiences. I would categorize the relationship between my work and the original poem as COMPLEMENTARY.

This would be a robust assignment to employ in middle and high school classrooms. Because modern day adolescents have grown up in an image-driven world (there are fewer words on websites today than several decades ago), making a multi-modal text would help them to more easily attach meaning to the written text, exercise their creative muscles, and interact with the text as individuals. It would place the story in their world and through their eyes.

  • Selecting the video (sequence of images) mode allows for the affordances of images to be mixed with the affordances of writing (Jones & Hafner, 2012).
  • Sending multiple messages at the same time through multi-modal texts may distract from the main message of a text. May be inappropriate for some readings.
Questions for Teachers:
  • What type of assignments have you utilized Screencast-O-Matic? Have you used it for purposes beyond video-style lectures?
  • Have you allowed students to remediate texts in your classroom? If so, how often? What are some of the challenges faced? What kind/how many limitations do you place on them?
  • How do you discuss literary meaning in your classroom without opening the doors to- every interpretation is valid?
My Suggestions for Using Screencast-O-Matic & Remediation in the Classroom:
  • If possible, teachers should look into the pay version for the benefits of longer videos, more editing features, and usage of additional multimedia text. The free version should be sufficient for students.
  • Have students write about the decisions they have made regarding their remediation to ensure that all components of the product have a purpose and relate back to the original text.
Cautions for Using Remediation in the Classroom:
  • Parameters must be well-defined. While such assignments would provide a strong creative vehicle for students, they also may go too far out in left field if not reigned in a little bit.
  • Students may be indecisive about whether or not their work is meant to be ambiguous. Have them state definitively which direction they have chosen to go with their interpretation.


Blau, S. (2003). The Literature Workshop: Teaching Texts and Their Readers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Jones, R. H., & Hafner, C. A. (2012). Understanding digital literacies: A practical introduction. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

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