The last time I walked into Jack’s house it was the 20th century, we read bound books, phones rang from the wall, still the clatter of his typewriter keys. As I remembered there was a sign on the door to please remove shoes, so I was glad for the fresh socks after work. I noted few changes, the den of a poet being eternal; the collection of decades arranged on cabinetry made of real wood by real carpenters from the days before particleboard & Ikea. We afforded ourselves some vino and sat at the wooden door-size table where we used to congregate back when I was a student, that same table that has seen so many poets pass by, that still gathers writers every Sunday to attend Jack’s in-home workshops.
Jack Collom has been teaching poetry for 40 of his 70 years in Boulder, with a primary focus on inspiring children. He has seen the changes in the community, both the microcosm of Front Range Poetry (our births & deaths) and the macrocosm of increasing commodification in Boulder at large (Where shall the artists live & breathe, O Boulder?), and when I need a lens that has seen more than myself it is to Jack that I wish to speak. I had been mulling a few things that I needed to talk with Jack about, and Professor Montgomery assigning me an article on him was non-coincidental perfect timing.
It is possible that Jack is the foremost expert in the world on teaching poetry to children, and to continue, to expand upon that legacy is in my mind one of the primary goals of our poetic community.
I have had a hair up my ass since the Fringe and Jaipur Lit Fest poetry mics 2015 which were requested to be ‘family-friendly’, and that got me thinking about what is our impact on children as poets, and I saw very little beyond Suess himself, perhaps a dip of the toe in the river of Pooh. So I’ve been sounding off a bit about this in our community, and I knew that what I really needed to do was to talk with Jack, who for decades has taught the children in our schools, libraries, homes and parks. The mass of his knowledge, the groundwork he has laid for us which we must recognize, is invaluable. It is possible that Jack is the foremost expert in the world on teaching poetry to children, and to continue, to expand upon that legacy is in my mind one of the primary goals of our poetic community.
We spoke at length on the methods and psychologies behind engaging kids with poetry, including many of the difficulties associated. We have our differing views on how to attract their attention, but Jack, with the hawk in his eye, the utmost seriousness and dedication, summed it up best: “Well, the kids Are tomorrow.” Because sitting at Jack’s table, the feeble human expanse flooding over the wealth of the Earth and us in this tiny oasis that is Jack’s house, we see what every poet, what every human should see bright as dawn, that the ‘saving of the planet’ begins, and ends, with our children. And that to teach them to think freely, to even live outside the institutional ‘box’, is exactly what the job of the Post-Millennial Shaman/Poet oughta be. On that, with silver splinters in our eyes, we agreed.
To that end Jack brought out a plethora of published material, that he generated on grant from community, on how to teach poetry, how even to enjoin the shopping critters on the Mall to collaborate with him in the birthing of a poem. Materials you can be sure I will add to the teaching library at BAFS. Which is indicative of the nature of Jack: he participates in his community. I don’t think I could name all the small presses that have come & gone over the years, but when they approached Jack for a poem or a book he ever had one in hand, easily offering his credibility to their endeavor, ever supporting the enthusiasm of the younger poets as they tried to create more, more, enough is never enough, notably in re: poetry. When some aspiring poet (me even) sought his advice on the intricacies of poetics, when the question becomes do I even know what the fuck I am doing and it’s either literary suicide or just go ask someone, a poetic elder, Jack takes the time to sit down, objective, and help you out. When there’s a classroomful of unruly single-digit kids that need their artistic spirit saved from the imposition of the 3 Rs, when they are right on the verge of the X-box Abyss, before the independence in their eyes begins to dim, Jack is there, wrote his own grant to get there, offering “poetic goodies” and the option to deviate from prosaic reality. ( & maybe even yodeling..!
Jack, more than any poet I can point to, allows the human within us to be acceptable, to exist beyond the Ego’s grasp, to note the ordinary as extraordinary. That just as we are is damn good enough…
These days, less mobile than he’d like to be in the poet’s twilight, Jack is preparing two new manuscripts of his collected work, intended for a larger press, Black Sparrow-ish if they were still around, we’ll see who has the foresight. Jack’s poetry has never (that I’ve known) been the spectacular ‘greatest hits’ that wins hearts in the tumble of open mics, buys souls with clever phrase; no, Jack has ever spoken to the soft within us, the intimate often awkward relationship we have with everyday life, the song of unrecognized birds or the curl of the eightball at game’s end. Jack, more than any poet I can point to, allows the human within us to be acceptable, to exist beyond the Ego’s grasp, to note the ordinary as extraordinary. That just as we are is damn good enough, and that is the zen (though Jack claims to not have that “Buddhism” folder on his ‘shelf’) of a man who spent his life half in the wild, half in the town. Jack is not Thoreau, or Abby, or (elusive hint of) Bukowski: Jack is you, & me, & Mom, & this guy with labor-rough hands, writing a poem together at the dinner table; and don’t forget that Dionysian wine, lubricant of gods & poets…
Jack Collom will be featured with Reed Bye at the So, You’re A Poet Reading at the Laughing Goat on Monday, February 22nd at 9pm, open mic at 8pm.
Marcus If is the Headmaster and Guerrilla Ontologist for the Beyond Academia Free Skool in Nederland, Colorado, which he founded in 2012 at the request of the local poetic community. A veteran performance poet, Marcus has been reading at least bimonthly along the Front Range for 25 years at open mics and featured events. He has hosted the Speakeasy reading series at the No Name Bar on the Hill, serves as editor at Boarhog Press, founded the Love Shovel Poetry Troupe, been the elected President of the Nederland Area Historical Society & Mining Museum, trained as a NEHA Certified Radiation engineer, was captured as a felonious POW in the Reagan-era Drug War, and currently reigns as Zen Tyrant of the meritocracy of Love Shovel Ranch in Nederland. Marcus doesn’t publish often, but his chapbooks include Contraband, Square Feet, The Comic Book Plague (w/ Rob Geisen), and Tail Spin: A Garter of Sonnets. For the past 15 years he has been working on An Obvious Ruse, an exploration of Projective Sonnets, which will be forthcoming soon. Visit loveshovelranch.com for more!
Did me good to read these words, having just learned of Jack’s passing.
[…] And also a link to Marcus If’s article on Jack from 2016 […]