Rod Jellema

Finding the Undercurrent: Three Essays

On the Reading, Writing, and Teaching of Poetry

The poem escapes the clock  

because it is water

and it grows with the wind.

               —Luis Alberto Ambroggio
                   (transl. C. M. Mayo)

Funny Things Happen on the Way to the Forms


Many years ago I was invited to ply my trade at a weekend poetry festival celebrating “The Limits and Shape of Language.” Right down my alley—but a few hours before I was due at the lectern I discovered that the theme had been changed. Only one word was changed, but the change seemed to me an indication of something that is sadly wrong in our culture’s dealings with poetry. Somehow it was decided that we could better spend the weekend thinking about “The Limits and Shape of Meaning.” Not language; meaning . . . .

[Read the essay here:  Funny Things Happen on the Way to the Forms]

Creative Indifference  


I’ve just read Marianne Boruch’s essay, “Line and Room,” from her book In the Blue Pharmacy. It’s a fascinating excursion into the many ways that line functions in the total makeup of what a poem is. We understand how poetry’s pressure and classical restraint are strengthened by lines which use punctuation marks at their ends, letting sense and meter pause between lines so that each line functions clearly as a unit in a structure. Butmuch more excitinglyBoruch demonstrates the gain in breadth, movement, and complexity when a poet breaks lines using enjambment, letting lines flow or jerk, hush or clamor, set up tensions, surprise us as they run on through the end-stops. She freshens an old truth:  that the line is a unit not of sense but of attention. . . .

[Read the essay here:  Creative Indifference]

The Tyranny of the Accessible


Out in the wilds beyond the lands inhabited by readers of journals like Poet Lore, there has always been, and probably still is, a silent tribe of teachers and readers and non-readers who dare not venture beyond what they call accessible poems. Their safest poems can be found in anthologies with titles like Best Loved Poems or 501 Poems of Courage and Inspiration. Such anthologies protect them from the embarrassment of their expected confusions with strange or “difficult” poems. Some of us might view this attitude as a retreat into cheap-perfume sentimentality and easily memorized plink-a-plonk verse—whereas these people see themselves as the upright conservators of real, no-nonsense, direct talk. . . .

[Read the essay here:  The Tyranny of the Accessible]

These essays first appeared in Poet Lore.

Rod Jellema, long associated with the University of Maryland and with The Writer's Center (Bethesda, MD), won the Towson University Prize for Literature for A Slender Grace. His most recent book, Incarnality: The Collected Poems (Eerdmans, 2010), includes a CD of his readings of many of them.



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A CLOSER LOOK: Betty Adcock

Grace Cavalieri

Patricia L. Hamilton

Sonja James

Rod Jellema

Robert Krenz

Miles David Moore

Jean Nordhaus

Kyle Norwood

Stephen Oliver

Barbara J. Orton

William Page

Patric Pepper

Oliver Rice

W.M. Rivera

Peter Serchuk

M.R. Smith

Ellen Steinbaum

Myrna Stone

Robert Joe Stout

Tim Suermondt

Ayten Tartici

Rodney Torreson

Buff Whitman-Bradley

Katherine E. Young















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