Shortly after I joined UNC Charlotte’s English Department in 1984, I met Jay Jacoby. He had joined the department six years earlier, so I naturally looked to him for guidance as I set out to build my career as an English professor. I remember talking with Jay about publishing, and I was surprised to learn that he regularly published poetry in addition to his scholarly articles on the teaching of writing and on Jewish literature. He shared with me a few of his poems at the time, and I liked the way he drew on his teaching experiences in his poetry.
Jay retired some years ago and moved to Asheville, where he hosts a monthly book group at Malaprop’s Bookstore, leads a weekly study group associated with his local synagogue, participates in three different writing groups, teaches literature and creative writing classes at UNC Asheville’s College for Seniors, and plays competitive Scrabble as a member of the Asheville Scrabble Club. However, he remains in touch with his former colleagues at UNC Charlotte, and he continues to write and publish poetry. Earlier this year, ArsPoetica brought out a collection of Jay’s poetry titled Lessons Learned & Unlearned. For more information about Jay’s collection, please click here.
I recently contacted Jay and asked him for more information about this collection. Here is what he sent to me:
Most of the poems in this collection, written over a period of nearly sixty years, reflect many things I have been taught and that I have gone on to test, either through experience or imagination. They represent not only lessons I have learned over the years, but also those I have not. Several of the poems were written during my 27-year tenure at UNC Charlotte, including elegies for former colleagues and reflections on my writing conferences with students.
In many of the poems, I have followed the advice of Sir Philip Sidney: “Look into your heart and write.” In many more, I was just messing around with language, engaging in wordplay but, as Frost once noted, “play for mortal stakes.” There are a number of “found poems” and centos in this collection, occasioned by my “stealing” and juggling words of other writers. There’s an acrostic, a few anagrams, dictionary poems, shaped poems, and ekphrastic poems inspired by works of art. And there are poems constrained by fixed forms: haiku, tankas, sonnets, villanelles, even a golden shovel.
Jay also shared with me one of the poems in his collection. Titled “Untethered in Dixie,” this poem was written on the occasion of his leaving Pittsburgh for his tenure-track position at UNC Charlotte:
UNTETHERED IN DIXIE
Ten years of marriage finally gone South
and so, to my greater surprise, will I.
Despite early vows otherwise, I will
now traverse that Mason-Dixon line
though still haunted by Life’s images
from childhood: Emmett Till, Little Rock,
Pickrick’s Drumsticks, and bodies managed
so easily with firehoses and vicious dogs.
My pride and prejudice now also managed,
worn down by the promise of a paycheck.
An itinerant Pennsylvania Yankee will soon
descend to serve in Queen Charlotte’s court.
Farewell Steel City, a.k.a. “City of Bridges,”
all four hundred and forty-six of them
spilling us into ninety-one enclaves.
Gert Stein, your native daughter, was right:
“A Holubky is a Gołąbki is a Golubtsy.”
A cabbage roll by any other name
would smell as sweet. In Blitzburgh,
they’d tell me, “These lines need fixed.”
So I roll down from your sooted hills
And into the khaki piedmont flatland.
Hello Queen City, a.k.a “City of Churches.”
There’s one or more at every intersection,
all ready to serve me country ham biscuits,
seven-layer salad, Cheerwine or sweet tea.
I am now a stranger in a strange land, like
Geronimo stranded among the white-eyes
Indeed, everyone is blond; here we cannot
sing of ochi chyornye or schwartze oygen.
I explain that I am a recent transplant,
happy to exchange my “yinz” for “y’all.”
I am amazed by all this southern charm.
I wasn’t expecting Deliverance, but this?
other than my asking “What’s Cheerwine?”
At every 7-Eleven, they all invite me to
“Come back and see us.” And I always do.
I asked myself why I stayed north so long?
In a year or so I would have my answer.
I thank Jay for the information about Lessons Learned & Unlearned and for sharing “Untethered in Dixie.” Although Jay is now a resident of Asheville, as far as I am concerned, he is still tethered to Storied Charlotte.