Poet, Scholar, Teacher and an Inspiration to Students
When lecturing to his writing classes, English professor Robb Jackson challenges students to express their innermost feelings through poetry. His advice is a lesson learned from experience.
While a teenager growing up in Ohio, Jackson experienced tragedy for the first time when the girl he had a crush on was killed in a car accident. The loss affected him so deeply that his high school English teacher encouraged him to put his feelings down on paper. He expressed his sorrow in verse to the girl’s mother, and a poet was born.
“I felt much better after writing that poem,” Jackson recalls. “I discovered then that writing poetry can be cathartic, something that fits young people really well.”
In recognition of his ability to inspire students, Jackson received the University’s 2005 Excellence in Teaching Award. The University’s Alumni Association also honored him as its Distinguished Faculty Member during last year’s Homecoming. He sees the classroom as a studio where students can create and develop their potential as writers, and students in his poetry class are required to keep a journal of their everyday experiences.
“A journal is a safe place where you can write anything you want and not have to show it to anybody,” Jackson said. “I write in my journal, and then tap it like a gold mine to find things I can develop into poems.”
University student Anne Ries took two of Dr. Jackson’s courses as an undergraduate and plans to take his creative writing workshop as part of her master’s program in English. What is unique about his classes, she says, is that he goes beyond just handing out assignments to help writers discover their inner voice.
“The one word I would use to describe Dr. Jackson is ‘inspiring,’” Ries said. “His classes give you a different take on writing. Unlike academic writing, creative writing helps you to think seriously about life and to find yourself as a person.”
In 2003, Jackson published a collection of his poems titled “Living on the Hurricane Coast.” Its verses contain the story of his transition from his Midwestern roots to his new home on the Gulf of Mexico. He is currently working on “Child Support,” which expresses his feelings about being separated from his four young children after a divorce more than 20 years ago.
“I left my children when they were really young,” Jackson explained. “This collection explains to them what was going on in my life at the time and contains birthday poems that I’ve written to them over the years.”
Jackson was a driving force in the creation of the University’s nationally recognized First-Year Learning Communities Program. In addition, he teaches creative writing courses at the Boys and Girls Clubs and also works with residents at the Nueces County Jail’s McKenzie Annex Substance Abuse Treatment Facility for non-violent offenders. His writing courses are often part of the residents’ prescribed therapy.
“Writing has power, and those people who benefit most are often those who don’t have a complete education,” explained Jackson. “Everybody has stories to tell—student or not—and writing fiction provides a safe way to explore their world and learn about themselves.”