Finding Beauty through a Degree in English: Meet John Poch, Professor of English and Creative Writing
Growing up in a pastor’s home, Dr. John Poch heard the Bible, its poetry and stories, and something stuck. He found a love for the way language offers us the good, the true, and the beautiful in a complexity that only keeps growing. Despite beginning his education as an engineering major, Poch found that there is no end to the enjoyment of words. This is the same joy he wants to share with students getting a degree in English or a minor in creative writing at Grace College.
With nearly 30 years of experience as a professor, numerous publications, and a heart for Christian education, we had a lot to cover with Poch, Grace’s new professor of English and creative writing.
1. Did you always plan on getting a degree in English?
I was good at math and science, and early on, so I intended to be an engineer, but after an associate degree in physics and a little dabbling in nuclear engineering studies, I jumped ship and got a degree in English. I went on to get an MFA at the University of Florida and a Ph.D. in English at the University of North Texas.
2. Who was a beneficial figure in your educational journey?
I took an art appreciation class with Dr. David Ludley at Clayton Junior College, where I first started, and his excitement in talking about beauty every day was one of those college experiences that can change a life. I never knew you could think that much about beauty, that there was such a history to it, and that you could develop an aesthetic life. While that class was about the visual arts, it laid a foundation for my thinking about poetry and how there is a tradition where the art gets developed movement by movement, and people riff off of each other to keep the art moving forward into new possibilities.
3. What job experience do you bring with you to Grace?
I got my feet wet in teaching English as a grad student at the University of Florida and the University of North Texas. After I graduated with my Ph.D., I had a one-year post-doc at Colgate University, where I taught a couple of creative writing classes and had a lot of time to write poems for my first book. After that, I spent 22 years at Texas Tech University teaching and writing. More than half of my teaching has been at the undergraduate level, but I have taught some of the best graduate students in the country pursuing English degrees. I’m proud to have around a dozen former dissertation students of mine in tenure-track positions around the country.
4. Tell us about launching the literary magazine 32 Poems.
I began 32 Poems with Deborah Ager, a former classmate at the University of Florida. She asked if I would edit the magazine with her. I told her I was too busy as a new professor at TTU, but she twisted my arm, and the magazine was an immediate hit with some of the best contemporary poets. Many consider the publication to be one of the best poetry magazines in the country. It’s still going today and is distributed internationally with subscribers in over twenty countries and I hope I can use that editorial experience to help the literary journal here become the best it can be.
5. Additionally, you are also a seasoned author. Tell us about some of the work you have published.
I’ve written seven individual collections of poems, and I have a number of other collaborations, including two anthologies that I edited. One of the books I’m most proud of is a handmade book I made with artist Eric Simpson called “Longsuffering.” We funded it through Kickstarter, and it was a huge success. I’m currently producing a documentary film about the Salvadoran/American photographer Sam Matamoros with an Emmy award-winning director.
6. How did you first hear about Grace, and what drew you to apply here?
This spring, I was looking to leave teaching in a secular institution and move to a Christian one. God was calling me out of that world and into a place where I could go deeper with Him and have an entirely new life and yet remain in my calling as a teacher. Grace College was the first job I saw advertised, and I applied. The word itself, grace, speaks to me. My own name, John, means gracious, and I published an edited collection of contemporary poems called “Gracious: Poems from the 21st Century South.” God’s grace is upon me here in a multiplicity of ways.
7. What do you think about Indiana so far?
We absolutely love it. This little village of Winona Lake, the lake itself, the trails, the people, it’s already home in a way that Texas never was, and we were there in West Texas for 23 years. We love the lushness, the green, the rain. What is this water falling from the sky? we keep asking ourselves! What is this huge body of water? Look, a creek with moving water! Fish!
Additionally, the people, so far, have been incredibly welcoming. The faculty and staff have bent over backward to help my family and me feel at home. Even our president here at Grace, once I accepted the job, wrote to me to tell me he was praying for me and that he would help me unload the truck when we arrived. Honestly, I teared up when I read that. I’m not used to senior administrators living out the gospel!
8. What are some courses you will teach for those getting a degree in English at Grace? Which one is most exciting to you and why?
I’ll be teaching a variety of courses for those pursuing a degree in English. Primarily my areas are creative writing, poetry, and American literature, but I’m a generalist by training. I hope to teach a wide variety over the next ten years here. I’m most excited to teach poetry writing. I love to show students how poems are language machines (not just expressions of feeling) and how we can get under the hood to see how they run.
9. What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to hike and run, and recently, we got a couple of kayaks, so I’ll be doing a lot more of that. I like to garden and already have cucumbers and tomatoes and all kinds of herbs growing at our new home. Obviously, I like to read and write. I have two books coming out in the next couple of years, and I’m hoping that I can share my work with the community here soon and inspire others to get some good writing done alongside me.