Writer Yakich reflects on untraditional poetic path

By Farah Bassyouni Apr 15, 2022
Credit: Farah Bassyouni
Credit: Farah Bassyouni

Professor Michael Theune’s “Writing Poetry” class is definitely among the stranger ones offered on campus. From laughing at poems about cannibalism to crying to poems about gardening, the course is sure to be full of surprises. But the best surprise from the class was Mark Yakich’s visit to our class. 

Yakich, sitting at the center of the classroom, began the most fascinating hour and fifteen minutes of our semester. Yakich is a bestselling author and poet and acts as an English professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Yakich started the class by telling us about his study abroad experience in Vienna during his senior year, and how we got back to campus just four days before his graduation.

“I didn’t get my s— together junior year, and with the art of negotiation, the registrar’s office waived my last remaining credit,” Yakich said.

Yakich wasn’t interested in poetry during his time as an undergraduate student at IWU. He was a straight-A political science major, worked at the admissions office and was on the soccer team. He started college as a graphic design major, then became undeclared and finally settled on political science.

“I lived abroad after I graduated, and after doing research in politics, I realized that I didn’t want to study [politics] anymore,” Yakich said.

Yakich said he just started reading little poetry pamphlets while he was abroad, and that’s when he started writing “really bad poetry.”

“Poetry grabbed me by the throat and compelled me. I’d be at work and writing poetry on the side,” Yakich said. 

Yakich eventually applied to get his Master of Fine Arts. He ended up at Louisiana State University, a place that, according to him, attracted misfits.  

Yakich’s first book, Unrelated Individuals Forming a Group Waiting to Cross, won the National Poetry Series, to which he humbly responded that he “got lucky.”

“I just wrote a f—load of poems. I wrote poems that didn’t come out alone in the world, but came out together,” Yakich said. 

Yakich quickly won our hearts. It might have been his constant swearing, or maybe it was his ability to remember all of our names, majors and poetry topics. Who’s to say? 

“He was just so funny and enthusiastic about writing poetry. He personally helped me a lot with my poetry project,” first-year Abby Gjaya said.

After he read us a few of his poems and scatteredly wrote a few book recommendations for us on the board, we asked Yakich about his writing process. 

“I procrastinate poems to write another one. I might be working on thirty poems at the same time and lose track, which is great. You put one poem in the drawer, and take another one out,” Yakich said. 

We asked Yakich if he would go back in time and change his major had he known he would love poetry so much later in his life.

“I didn’t come across Whitman or Dickinson until I was 27, and I didn’t come across the sonnets of Shakespeare until I was 30. I came at it from a different direction, so I don’t have any regrets,” Yakich said.

“You don’t get to pick your parents, I’m adopted, but as English majors you get to pick your forefathers and in contemporary poetry, your brothers and sisters,” Yakich said.  

He told us it was good to be young and naive, explaining that getting older makes you a little more jaded. 

“A lot of people in the world will make you pick, you have to like or dislike poems, but I have this opposing mentality in my mind. I tried my best at the beginning to just imitate my favorite authors, but you won’t be able to do it, and that’s kind of great,” Yakich said. 

Yakich ended the class by surprising us with a briefcase of his books that he had brought with him, Oprah style.  

“Everyone’s gonna get a book today. Who likes prose? Who’s afraid of airplanes?” Yakich asked and handed out custom-chosen books to everyone in the class. 

I had lunch with Yakich and Theune the next morning at El Porton. We discussed  Yakich’s career over a plate of nachos and fish tacos and he reminisced about his college days. 

“College didn’t have the pressure it has now, it was very experimental,” Yakich said. 

Despite the generational difference, Yakich’s experiences and words inspired our class to be authentic in our work. His candidness helped us learn how important it is to stick with your passion, and that naivety in youth has its value. 

“It’s like that one Lorde song, the one about growing out of things you used to like. Once you experience something, you can’t experience it again for the first time. There’s something kind of wonderful about that,” Yakich said. 


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