Rod Jellema: Thoughts on Midwiving

Rod Jellema, who taught at the University of Maryland for 37 years, talks to Jiménez-Porter Writers' House students in Dorchester Hall. Photo by Colby Smith

By Molly Morris

Staff Writer

Rod Jellema doesnt’t like to think of himself as a poetry professor.

“Teaching isn’t the right word,” he said, “You aren’t professing anything in a workshop. It’s more like being a midwife. You’re helping with the delivery process; bringing something to life and teaching it how to breathe.”

Jellema, a former poetry professor at the University of Maryland and founder of the Writers Here and Now series, read at the series’ final event of the semester Wednesday along with former UMD graduate student Michael David Lukas.

Before reading, Jellema answered Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House students questions in the basement of Dorchester Hall.  Returning to College Park comes with a splash of irony for Jellema, who started Writers Here and Now 44 years ago.

“It was much different than it is now,” he said.

In the sixties, the series began as a weekly event that followed poetry and fiction workshops.

“We would try and bring in big names, as money would allow,” Jellema said.

The series has since grown into a monthly event in which students fill Ulrich Recital Hall, crowd the stage and aisles, scribble notes and listen attentively to famed poets, novelists and short story authors.

Jellema also donated his collection of over one thousand poetry books to the Writers’ House, which have been placed in what is now called the Jellema Collection, found on the basement floor of Dorchester Hall.

“I wanted to share my old friends,” Jellema said.

He offered similarly shared his advice on becoming a successful poet with students.

“Writing is about saying something that can’t be said,” he said. “If you don’t understand it, write it.”

“Your lines need to make something, not just mean something,”

Jellema’s Incarnality works to do just that. Through poetry, he works to bring together the spirit and the physical, as though to ground the physical and metaphysical in a single being.

His poems, with titles such as “Civilization,” “The Function of Poetry at the Present Time” and “The Report From Near the End of Time and Matter,” sound intimidating, but Jellema remains humble.

“I’m still baffled with my own fame and the praise of others,” he said on stage after an introduction by a former University of Maryland colleague. “When I hear these things I look behind me and wonder, ‘Are they really talking about me?’”

View more photos from Writers’ Here and Now here.

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