Muriel Rukeyser on Why People Hate Poetry

As a teacher of poetry, I often hear dislike of poetry expressed. When I hear it, I’m dismayed, and struggle to understand why. At least until I discovered Muriel Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry at a conference presentation. Seventy years ago, Muriel Rukeyser wrote these words explaining why people hate poetry that seem to me just as true today.

Anyone dealing with poetry and the love of poetry must deal, then, with the hatred of poetry, and perhaps even more with the indifference which is driven toward the center. It comes through as boredom, as name-calling, as the traditional attitude of the last hundred years which has chalked in the portrait of the poet as he is known to this society, which as Herbert Read says, “does not challenge poetry in principle–it merely treats it with ignorance, indifference and unconscious cruelty.”

 -Muriel Rukeyser, The Life of Poetry (1949)

These days, you often hear a truism by poets and poetry faculty that turns Rukeyser slightly askew. It goes something like, “Everybody loves to write poetry, but nobody loves to read it.” Just as dismaying, but I think Rukeyser’s statement explains it just as well.

Until we teach poetry in a way which raises the bar in understanding, enjoyment, and sophistication; until we properly offer this art in a way that is cross-cultural, multi-faceted, and inclusive, we won’t be able to get poetry the respect it deserves. I believe what poets and poetry teachers would want would be for people to find in poetry a way to explore what it means to be alive, to find comfort in difficult circumstances, to grow as an individual, and even to find a way to give praise for and to existence.

Molly’s Mutts Plays Rockabilly: Mel Tillis’ “I Ain’t Never”

Molly’s Mutts rocks to Mell Tillis’ “I Ain’t Never” during a practice session in David’s living room. Enjoy! Molly’s Mutts is Molly McCormack (dulcimers, guitar, vocals), Michael Jackman (guitars, ukulele, dobro, vocals), and David Rodger (stand up bass).

Molly's Mutts group photo
Molly’s Mutts is (L-R) David Rodger, Molly McCormack, Michael Jackman

Check out Molly’s Mutts jamming to Bob Wills’ “Roly Poly.”

Four Points of Good Workshopping

Over decades of running and participating in writing workshops, I’ve found that the best workshops happen when they include simple but effective guidelines for responding.

This Four Points of Good Workshopping handout has served me well for creating a community of writers. It helps authors take in critiques and it helps participants guide their responses. It uses well-known interpersonal communication principles in order to achieve these goals.

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Podcast: Arranging “Won’t Get Fooled Again” for Americana/Roots

I played acoustic and electric guitars and sang as a soloist and in a bunch of bands, gigging the small bar circuit throughout the 70s and 80s before moving to Nashville for a while. I never did break into the songwriting business then, and I gave up for many years. After I joined Indiana University Southeast as a writing faculty, I started songwriting, playing and singing again. My music has had a little bit of a renaissance lately, and I’ve enjoyed coming back to one of the loves of my life.

In today’s video podcast, I show you where I’m at so far in the process of arranging the Who’s rock classic “Won’t Get Fooled Again” to a more Americana/Roots style. Check out my progress, as I explain and play through the decisions I’m making for working up this tune to fit my playing and singing style.

If you liked this podcast, you might like my cover of Donovan’s “Colours.”

Listen to Some of My Poems on Soundcloud

Hearing a poem is often stronger and more enjoyable than reading one. I’ve placed audio files of me reading eight of my poems on Soundcloud. Enjoy these.

Michael reads at Kentucky Homefront live taping, Louisville, KY, April 2017.
Michael reads an original story at the Kentucky Homefront radio show live taping at Adath Jeshurun in Louisville, April, 2017. The show was a tribute to late singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen.

Pick an opening line:

  • “When spring began to breed mosquitos…” Listen (“DDT
    (Or, a psalm to dichloro-diphenyl tri-chloroethane)”‘
  • “Jim writes, ‘I feel like the designated scribe of the apocalypse…” Listen (“Bat Houses”)
  • “Mame, du host fayer gemakht…” (“Mama, you made fire…”) Listen (“Mama” By Razjel Zychlinsky, read by Michael Jackman in Yiddish and English)
  • “They kicked them off the field, the Yeshiva boys…” Listen (“Yeshiva Students Kicked off Baseball Field, Forest Park, Queens, Circa 1981”)
  • “I was playing war with little men of plastic…” Listen (“Blackout”)
  • “His Grace, Duke Gonzaga, exempted Salomone Rossi Hebreo…” Listen (“Mantua, 1606”)
  • “There are some rotting joists in the crawlspace…” Listen (“Letter from Spickert Knob;” Runner-up, Raynes Poetry Prize)
  • “How the rain, any rain, and the sun…” Listen (“How the rain”)

If you enjoyed listening to my poems on Soundcloud, you might like to hear some of my music as well. I suggest my cover of “Colours” by Donovan.

Michael, playing guitar; his dog Monty looks on
Michael poses for a music publicity photo; his dog Monty looks on.