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Poetry inspires professor to cope

By Savannah Christian
On November 4, 2010

Most people are molded in some way by their parents and the environment in which they are raised, while perhaps many fewer are affected in positive ways by personal tragedies. A&M-Commerce Professor of Literature and Languages Dr. Kathryn Jacobs is not an exception to either of these scenarios.

In her childhood, her British mother heavily influenced Jacobs' literary tastes. According to Jacobs, those books instilled a strong love for English in her.

"My mother would give me books that she had read as a child, just as every other kid's parents did," Jacobs' said, "but of course the books that she read to me were all British. To me, this was completely normal."

Jacobs was also frequently ill as a child, a circumstance that further fostered her love for reading.

"During these times, I would just read," she said. "The Middle Ages became one of my worlds."

Jacobs' frequent illnesses also furnished her with ample time to write poetry and short stories on her manual typewriter.

"I have terrible handwriting, so I have to type all of my work," she said. "I wanted an electric typewriter, but my parents said I had to earn it. I did chores around the house and sold vegetables from my garden to everyone in my neighborhood."

Jacobs received an electric typewriter for Christmas that year. The gift brought Jacobs to a clear realization of the career path she wanted to pursue.

"I knew right then that I wanted to be an English teacher," she said.

Jacobs began attending the University of Michigan at the age of 17, while finishing high school.

"Every day I would go to my high school classes in the morning and then ride over to the university for my other classes," she said. "We didn't have professors come to our high school like they do today."

Jacobs completed her Bachelor's degree in English in three years and went on to obtain a Master's from the university as well.

"I got my Master's because I wanted more background in my field," she said, "but I still didn't feel prepared to teach because I had been so focused on class."

Jacobs decided to apply to the doctoral program at Harvard University to better prepare herself to teach at the collegiate level.

"I wanted to be an expert on what I was going to teach," she said. "Harvard made me a professional; it was essential."

After earning her Ph.D. and teaching for a few years, Jacobs married and had three children. Her son Raymond had cerebral palsy, which prevented him from walking normally.

"I knew I had to quit teaching to raise him properly, so I decided to give it up for a while," Jacobs said. "I spent 45 minutes every day going up and down the stairs of our Manhattan building with Raymond, teaching him how to walk. It was difficult, but he finally learned, which allowed us to move to Commerce in 1993 when I was offered a job here at the university."

In 2005, Raymond died unexpectedly of sleep apnea. Her son's death impacted Jacobs deeply.

"His death had to make a difference in the world," she said. "I was not the type to go change laws or anything like that. Instead, I turned back to poetry."

Jacobs has dedicated all of her chapbooks to Raymond, who has become her inspiration for writing.

"My professional life has the shape it has now because he died," she said. "If I am going to justify me living when he was stopped at 18, this is what I have to do."

According to Jacobs, without the death of Raymond, she would have just been a dabbler in poetry.

"I share my work with my students because I cannot imagine not practicing what I preach," she said. "If everybody in the world who loved me died, the evenings would be hard, but in school I would be happy."

Jacobs teaches a wide range of courses at A&M-Commerce including mythology, Shakespeare, Middle English and creative writing. Jacobs attributes her to attraction to teaching medieval period courses to her childhood immersion in British literature.

"I call myself a Medievalist," she said. "It's a little like a fantasy. You immerse yourself in a world that is just different enough from our own. I live a lot in my head, so I never fully involved myself in this world we live in anyway."

In her teaching Jacobs focuses a lot on poetry, specifically the development of poems.

"Today, teachers don't really focus on poetry in their classes because they were never taught it themselves," she said. "It is an important part of literature, so I am trying to ensure that the teachers I send out know how to teach poetry."

Since 2007, Jacobs has published over 100 poems and has a book of poetry coming out next year.

"In writing poetry these past few years, I am turning back to my own love," she said.

Jacobs said that teaching serves as a coping mechanism for her.

"When I teach, I don't imagine there is any disaster that could remain real to me," she said.

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