Poet Dylan Thomas said, “The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it.” The same can be said for well-known Oklahoma author, speaker and three-time Woody Guthrie poet Bill McCloud. His passion for words makes the world a little brighter, and Rogers State University is grateful to call him a creative colleague, passionate teacher and a wonderful human being.
“Bill is a natural story-teller, and students really enjoy his avuncular and friendly demeanor. We are lucky to have someone like him in our community who has such a great passion for teaching,” Dr. Kenneth Hicks, history and political science department head, said.
McCloud has been an adjunct instructor in the history and political science department at RSU since 2009. Students who take his class not only learn about history, but they also learn about the art of words.
“I point students toward poets and poetry a little more when they come up in the text or reading material or why an author has chosen to use a specific word or phrase in something we’re reading,” McCloud said. “I love the written language and will sometimes have students consider not just the importance of what someone writes, but also the words they specifically used to express their point.”
History is a required course for most majors, and McCloud enjoys teaching history through his love of poetry. Poetry passed down history for many generations. The two subjects are a natural fit to teach.
“Most of my students are not in my class because they have a great love of history. My challenge then is to work with them and help them to hopefully gain an understanding of why the subject is so important,” McCloud said.
McCloud’s poetry and writing can be found in the main library at Harvard University as well as on the walls of a Tulsa Transit Metro bus.
“Poetry allows you to say a lot about a subject by using a minimal number of words. It has always been a way of organizing the world around me. It’s a way for me to try to make sense of what I’m seeing, hearing, or experiencing. It’s a way of organizing my thoughts and presenting them to others in a manner less likely to overwhelm them,” McCloud said.
After graduating high school, McCloud entered the military to protect and serve in the Vietnam War.
Some were drafted, he volunteered, and if they survived, they came home to loved ones. Brave soldiers that have been to war have stories and for McCloud, stories through letters turned into the book Smell of the Light. One hundred and seven poems describe his year in Vietnam. The poems were based on 52 letters he wrote home.
Poems from The Smell of the Light are being taught and discussed at Tulsa University in an Intro to Creative Writing course. This year they’re being discussed in a session along with poems by Ron Padgett, Susan Howe and Rebecca Eland.
Before McCloud began teaching at RSU, he taught at Pryor Junior High School. He began writing letters to decision makers during the war to help understand what students needed to learn about the Vietnam War. Responses from journalists, public figures, politicians and solders led to his book What Should We Tell Our Children About Vietnam?
Those responses, including some of George H.W. bush, Jimmy Carter, Allen Ginsberg and John McCain, helped give McCloud a better understanding of the war so that he could do a better job of teaching its history. That same proactive attitude and care for teaching is what makes faculty at RSU so special.
“RSU instructors are passionate about their courses while also indicating great concern for their students as individual learners. Relationships are developed at RSU. That’s what it’s all about,” Hicks said.
McCloud is in the initial stages of selecting a publishing company for his next book of general poetry.
He received his associate degree from Northern Oklahoma College, his bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma State University and master’s degree from Northeastern State University.
The Smell of the Light and What Should We Tell Our Children About Vietnam? can be purchased at the RSU Bookstore.