The poetry brigadier

A whiz with words, UW senior Jack Chelgren is on a mission to make poetry present and relevant on campus and around the community.

Passion Never Rests

Jack Chelgren has loved words and stories ever since he was a young boy.

Awards & Honors

National ranking

USA Today this year ranked the UW English Department the third-best in the country for English majors.

A&S Dean’s medal

Each year, the College of Arts & Sciences honors the top graduating senior in each division — arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences — who, in addition to meeting an impressive list of criteria, must be nominated to receive the award. Jack Chelgren is the 2015 A&S Dean’s Medalist in the Humanities.

“It was always what I was best at,” says the English major, who plans on one day attending graduate school. “English was my favorite class, and I always knew I wanted to do something language-, writing- or lit-related. I never really questioned it.”

After transferring to the UW his sophomore year in search of a more urban and diverse college environment, he knew he’d found the perfect place to earn his education. “I was delighted to find that the UW has a really terrific English department, with some truly outstanding faculty,” says the Edmonds, Washington, native.

Chelgren, who graduates this spring, was accepted into the Interdisciplinary Honors Program and enrolled in a class taught by Frances McCue, a senior lecturer and writer-in-residence who co-founded the Richard Hugo House, a community writing center that’s long been a Seattle staple.

McCue quickly became Chelgren’s mentor and helped him form the UW Poetry Brigade, which aims to get writing and poetry in front of people who might not self-select as literature lovers. The informal group meets weekly and dreams up ways to make poetry visible on campus, whether it’s sitting outside the HUB with typewriters and writing on-the-spot poems for passersby, pasting pieces across dorms and dining halls, or one of Chelgren’s proudest accomplishments as a member of the Poetry Brigade: founding Blind Glass, the sole student-run, poetry-only online publication on campus.

“The UW is full of creative people, and I thought there needed to be some outlet for all of this creative writing. That’s what Blind Glass has been,” he says. “I’m not naturally inclined to be super entrepreneurial or do things like this, but Frances encouraged me, and I’ve learned a lot. And it’s been an opportunity to get students’ poetry not only published, but accessible and available, too.”

Each issue, a crew of five or six students anonymously reviews every single submission, scores them and then selects 15–20 pieces to publish in the online publication, which is slated for its third release this spring. “It’s a pretty democratic selection process,” says Chelgren. “That way it’s not just my taste, and it becomes much more of a group effort.”

And the group effort — both on campus and in the greater Seattle area — is a big part of what makes Chelgren so passionate about poetry. “Literature is often a community; one made up of a bunch of solitary people, reading, writing and having this community by proxy through writing,” he says.

Chelgren fosters that sense of connectedness on campus through the Poetry Brigade and Blind Glass while also working part time at the Odegaard Writing & Research Center, where he’s a writing tutor to a number of students, including English language learners. He also tutors at The Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas, a free, nonprofit writing center for K–12 students throughout the city that promotes creativity in a positive environment.

“I’m able to tap all of my interests at the UW based on being in Seattle — which is a great city — and at this big university that’s integrated into the city. There have been a lot of avenues for me to really contribute to not just the small community here on campus, but the larger Seattle community, too, and that’s been a big part of my experience here.”

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