Poetry is a topic that many people see as black and white. You either love it or hate it. Sometimes you get the deeper meaning and sometimes you don’t. There are times a deeper meaning isn’t even necessarily intended. Maya Angelo aptly said, “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.” These days there seems to be more forms of poetry, than colors discernible to the human eye.


For those that enjoy poetry, it is an endless source of pleasure.

Mount Marty University English professor, Dr. Jamie Sullivan, has just published his first collection of seventythree poems provocatively titled, “Pack of Lies”. The assemblage contains a portion of Sullivan’s past ten year’s work and provides a taste of hopefully, much more to come.

Sullivan did his graduate work at Creighton University and St. Louis University, and considers teaching to be his primary focus. He’s been proudly teaching at the Mount, for the past thirty seven years and offers a diverse array of writing and literature courses. When asked what his favorite class to teach is, he replies that “Contemporary American literature is probably my favorite course because, That’s what I read all the time anyway, and know the most about. This is the area I specialized in.” His doctorate thesis was on the novelist, John Hawkes, a postmodern American novelist. He was considered an Avant-garde, experimental writer that was famous in the eighties. Sullivan was fortunate to have been able to meet Hawkes and interview him. Sullivan also did some free-lance writing for St. Louis newspapers. The first class he ever taught was unsurprisingly, an introduction to poetry. He later taught other classes that went deeper into the actual creative writing process.

It was while still in high school that Sullivan first started writing poetry, and some of his poems were published when he was in his twenty’s. More recently, Sullivan’s poetry has been featured in journals such as The Lake, Flyaway, The Naugatuck River Review, and the Briar Cliff Review. He shares that, “Writing was something I did when I could. If you really want to be a serious writer, then that should be your first priority. Teaching has always been mine.” Poetry has always been something Sullivan enjoyed reading and practicing in his spare time, but he doesn’t plan on it ever replacing his teaching profession.

People that enjoy writing have diverse habits. Sullivan recommends to anyone seriously interested in pursuing writing, to do it every day. Although he readily admits at times it’s difficult for him to always follow this rule, especially in the midst of hectic college semesters. He tries to write a little bit every morning after he wakes up, while his mind is uncluttered with all the things he has to do that day. He feels that he is always much more productive with this morning writing schedule during the months of summer break. Sullivan shares, “What makes poetry possible for me, is that it’s doable. I can’t write a novel while I’m teaching, but I can put an hour into writing a day for a couple of weeks. I’ll then set it aside, and come back to it and work on it again for another couple of weeks. That’s reasonable.”

Sullivan prefers to write his first draft lines in long hand, in one of his numerous notebooks. He laughingly says, “I think that anyone that writes poetry probably have hundreds of unfinished poems, so sometimes when I feel really uninspired, I will go back to one of these notebooks and flip through and see if there’s something that strikes my eye. If there’s something with more potential, that I never finished, I might work on that.” He only types them into his laptop when he feels they, “have something substantial going on there with possibilities, but it has to be a certain standard before I bother to type them out.”

Sullivan has been a collaborating member of an active writing group, for the past two years with Dr. James Reese from Mount Marty, Neil Harrison out of Nebraska, and other professionals. He finds the feedback from the supportive critiques that the group provides, incredibly helpful. They have given him great suggestions and ideas that have helped to make his work stronger.

In terms of style, Sullivan feels his poetic form is similar in some ways to Sharon Olds, in that he doesn’t worry as much about line length, but is more concerned about the overall content, with coherent, structured images, and the repetition of sounds that are interesting. Sullivan enjoys experimenting and doesn’t stick to one type of form. He varies his format depending on what feels right for the particular poem. Sometimes they are couplets, or three-lined stanzas. Other times, he features unrhymed sonnets, or even a completely free form style.

In discussing current poetry trends, Sullivan quickly brings up Ted Koozer and Billy Collins, both National Poet Laureates. These men have forever changed some of the stereotypes surrounding poetry, making it more accessible to the general public. People can read their poems and know what they are about, after reading them the first time. Sullivan thinks that while the Modernist movement of poetry may have chased many people away, due to its enigmatic style that was hard to understand, there is still a fondness for the art in other forms.

Sullivan states, “Many people don’t want to read poetry, but they like to listen to songs that have catchy phrases and haunting lyrics. A lot of people would give you a blank stare if you asked them about poetry, but they still have lines to certain songs, that they always remember.” A good example, is the musician Bob Dylan, who is in one of Sullivan’s current text books, and was a Nobel Prize winner.

The thing Sullivan prefers about writing poetry over short stories or novels, is that, “The thing about poetry, is that the language is much more in the forefront. Language is such an amazing thing, it has a feeling in your mouth, it makes noise, it has sound. It’s an explosion of meaning and sensation, and that is what’s found at the heart of most poetry. You have all that in other forms of literature too, but for poetry, I think that’s the main focus.”

When asked if he has plans on writing another book of poetry in the future, Sullivan chuckles and says, “It only took about fifty years for the first one, maybe I can get it down to four or five years next time. It’s very rewarding, when someone likes your book enough to publish it, but there’s some anxiety too.”

Sullivan considers himself a “somewhat reclusive sort”, and isn’t very interested in all the busyness of going out marketing and promoting a book. He then laughs and humbly adds, “I don’t plan on making much money writing poetry.” Hopefully Sullivan is proven pleasantly wrong, or at the very least, this doesn’t keep him away from putting pen to paper. For people drawn to writing poetry, it becomes a way to more deeply express an appreciation for life.