In Memoriam: Emeritus Professor of English Rod Jellama

May 15, 2018

Emeritus Professor of English and poet Rod Jellema passed away in Washington, DC, at the age of 91 on Friday, May 11. Rod, who had a D. Phil. from the University of Edinburgh, joined the Department in 1955 and taught for nearly forty years before retiring in 1992. He was the founding director of the creative writing program as well as the founding organizer of Writers Here and Now.

His five collections of poems include The Lost Faces (1967) and Incarnality: The Collected Poems of Rod Jellema (2010). Rod received the Pieter Jelles Prize and a Columbia University Translation Prize for his translations of Frisian poetry. For his own work, he was awarded two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and a Hart Crane Memorial Prize. James Wright described Rod’s poems as “remarkable for the physical pungency of their language, their muscular and sensitive rhythms.” Wright found in them a “truth and depth of …feeling” that could “only be revealed by the most careful, intelligent craftsmanship.”

Rod was also a remarkable teacher. Former students such as Primus St. John, Kevin Craft, Rose Solari, and Glenn Moomau have gone on to have productive careers as writers, teachers, and editors. Rod was an expert on New Orleans jazz and had been working on Really Hot: A New Hearing for Old New Orleans Jazz with the late Gordan Darrah. Michael Collier remembers Rod for his passionate teaching of undergraduates and his wry, anti-establishmentarian attitude toward the department. Richard Cross recalls his humor, good humor, and loyalty to his roots. Born in Holland, Michigan, Rod cherished the summers he spent among the dunes along Lake Michigan, his Dutch heritage, and the church he grew up and grew old in. It’s altogether fitting that the title he chose for his collected poems reflects his concern with the intimacy of flesh and spirit.

A memorial service will be held Thursday, May 17 at the Washington, DC Christian Reformed Church, where Rod had been a member since the late 1950s. The church is located at 5911 New Hampshire Ave., NE. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for socializing. Light food (sandwiches, salads, sides, desserts), served at 7:00 p.m., and the service will start at 8:00 p.m.