Passion for Poetry


A visiting instructor and assistant professor at MCLA for nearly 10 years, Vermont resident Jeffrey McRae has joined MCLA's English/communications department.

"The 10 years I've spent here at MCLA have been amazing," he said. "Teaching is such a rewarding experience."

McRae, who this semester is teaching two creative writing courses, as well as classes in literature and creative writing poetry, said many of his students share his blue-collar background, which makes it easy for him to understand and relate to him, and vice versa.

"I have a good sense of who they are and where they're from and I think, at the end of the day, they have the same sense about me. There's a basic equality that makes it all work."

Next semester, he'll teach a workshop in advanced poetry. To McRae, poetry is "the whole enchilada."

"It activates my mind and imagination like nothing else. Writing poems is an exercise in manipulating the tools of the craft and it also is deeply intertwined with the process of becoming, self-discovery and self-knowledge. It's a total experience.

"And so, teaching poetry has been equally as absorbing-to be on the outside of the process, watching students engage and wrestle with the same ideas and issues I wrestled with - and am still wrestling with - is instructive to me. Poems are so human. They're beautiful objects. Who wouldn't want to make a living talking about poems and trying to make beautiful things?"

McRae said it's important to offer a selection of courses that give students a solid, formal footing in creative writing, which is the largest concentration within the MCLA English major. 

"I'd like to get a traditional prosody course on the books so students have an awareness of what meter is, of what traditional forms are; an awareness of the history of poetic form as it results in free verse and whatever it is that's being practiced today.  It's important to have an appreciation for Byron, let's say. He helps put Whitman into focus. Whitman helps puts Pound and Williams into focus, etc."

McRae feels he has a responsibility to be as engaged, genuine and sincere as he can in his teaching, advising and his own writing. He loves teaching at MCLA.

"The students are curious and motivated, savvy and intellectual, creative, wise and innocent.  ...  I am constantly learning from their perspectives and backgrounds.  They keep me on my toes, which is great!  They challenge me and they remind me I don't know everything there is to know."

McRae wants his students to learn from him that art is serious, and should be taken seriously. 

"I hope they get a very solid academic footing as it pertains to poetry writing and poetry as literature," he said. "I hope they get a sense of excitement about the field, the art, the process of writing.  I hope they leave my classes feeling like poetry is something that is alive and relevant to their lives-not just something practiced by dead white guys with patches on their elbows."