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A passion for poetry leads into a government role

By Larshell Green
On August 29, 2017

English instructor Dr. Jack Bedell was named Poet Laureate. Bedell’s published works include “Bone-Hollow, True: New and Selected Poems” and “Come Rain, Come Shine.” Courtesy of Communication and Creative Services

Governor John Bel Edwards has recently named university English instructor Dr. Jack Bedell as Louisiana’s Poet Laureate after he was previously nominated for the prestigious honor four times.

According to Bedell, the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities nominates finalists for Poet Laureate who they consider to be distinguished scholars and writers. Although he was surprised after becoming informed of his accomplishment, he is confident in his abilities in the new role. 

“I’m going to do my best to promote poetry in every corner of Louisiana,” said Bedell. “The role of laureate gives me the platform to celebrate all of the people producing great work in our state, and I’m going to do my best to do so.”

Bedell was born and raised in Houma, Louisiana, only leaving for a short amount of time to study in graduate school and begin his career as an educator. He describes his childhood as a young boy growing up in South Louisiana. 

“This is the only place I feel at home,” said Bedell. “Like every other kid from Houma, I grew up playing sports and enjoying the outdoors. My whole childhood was filled with family, fairs, games, parades and a whole lot of love.”

One of the highlights of spending time with his family was their pastime of bonding through storytelling. 

“My whole family, immediate and extended, sat around telling stories any time we got together,” said Bedell. “My love of literature and particularly poetry is just an extension of sitting on the porch listening to the old people tell it like it was.”

Bedell, who describes poetry as a “language art,” explains why it is his favorite genre of literature. 

Bedell explains, “The compression of it, the limited time to get a thought, story or feeling across to your reader is what attracts me to poems. I also really love the way you can harness rhythms in lines of poetry. Nothing carries more juice for me than the energy and sentiment of a good poem.”

Head of the English Department Dr. David Hanson explains why Bedell, who serves as graduate coordinator of creative writing, editor of the professional creative writing journal “Louisiana Literature” and director of the Louisiana Literature Press, is considered to be a gem in the department.

“He is also key to our program in publishing studies, leading students through hands-on instruction in helping produce the press publications,” said Hanson. “As Poet Laureate, he will share his talents statewide, educating students and presenting his poetry, which reflects the region’s unique and rich culture. He amply deserves his place in the historic succession of Louisiana’s admired writers who have held the post of state laureate.”

Since joining the university faculty in 1992, Bedell has enjoyed the plethora of daily knowledge that he is afforded as an educator. He teaches all levels of creative writing, graduate and undergraduate writing, professional writing and American literature. 

“The opportunity to share writing with my creative writing students keeps me engaged and growing as a writer and as a human being,” said Bedell. “It’s a privilege to work with so many energetic and talented students. I can’t imagine giving it up.”

After earning a doctorate in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, a master’s of fine arts degree in creative writing from the University of Arkansas and master’s and bachelor’s degrees in English from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Bedell credits his studies for teaching him growth.

“Every poem I write is a chance to try something new, to develop some new skill,” said Bedell. “Every poem I read offers the same chances. Writing, like medicine or law, is a practice. It’s not something you can ever perfect. My teachers, every one of them, encouraged me to take writing as a journey toward being part of humanity. There is no point of arrival with that, only the journey.”

“Come Rain, Come Shine,” “What Passes for Love,” “At the Bonehouse” and “Revenant” are among some of Bedell’s published works. Following the release of his last full-length collection “Bone-Hollow, True: New and Selected Poems” in 2013, Bedell shares what can be expected from his book “No Brother, This Storm” in 2018. 

“I’ve really tried to overhaul the way I structure poems on the page, the way I tell stories in my poems,” said Bedell. “South Louisiana, family and traditions still figure prominently in ‘No Brother, This Storm,’ but readers will definitely notice a change in language and delivery. Many of the poems also deal with coastal erosion and the changes our Louisiana environment is undergoing. Living here, it would be hard to ignore those

changes in my work since I see their impact daily.”

One of Bedell’s main goals as a writer is for his work to reflect his roots in Louisiana. He hopes that fellow natives of the state can relate to his works on a personal level.

Bedell said, “All of my poems are written with the goal of honoring the place, people and traditions that have produced me. The only reaction I’d hope for if an old person from Houma, Louisiana, read one of my poems would be that they’d say, ‘Yep. That’s what it’s like.’”

One of Bedell’s top skills as a writer relies on his ability to include clarity in his work. 

“I love south Louisiana, and even more so my family,” said Bedell. “My poems have a huge obligation to be accurate and understandable. I put as much clear detail as I can into everything I write to give readers, especially those who’ve not been to the places I’m writing about, a chance to understand my gratitude toward my home and my family.”

Although Bedell has found success in higher education and the creative writing industry, he humbly admits that he never thought that Governor Edwards would read his “quiet poems.” 

“I certainly never dreamed I’d receive this kind of recognition,” said Bedell.

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