Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The closing lines to Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken parallel the path that Jake Montgomery has followed since he graduated from Moorestown Friends. Before enrolling at Harvard University as an undergraduate, Jake elected to take a gap year to explore his many interests, and this spring he will receive his M.F.A. in Poetry from the lauded Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Although the roads he has chosen are decidedly less traveled, poetry has given Jake a sense of purpose, something he did not feel he had quite figured out before.
While at MFS, Jake was an actively engaged student but he knew he was not yet ready to settle on one subject of study in college.
“I wanted more time to mature and see more of the world before narrowing my focus,” said Jake.
So he traveled to Israel with Kibbutz Ulpan, a five-month work-study program, where he studied Hebrew, worked on the kibbutz farm, and learned more about the unique communal kibbutz culture. When he returned, he went to Washington D.C. for an internship with an organization that did advocacy work in favor of the United Nations and peaceful diplomacy. Finally, he spent a few months as a farm hand in South Jersey.
“With my gap year, I felt that I gained a much broader perspective about the world,” said Jake. “One of the great things about MFS is it is so nurturing, but it was nice to have an experience outside of the tight-knit MFS community before college. After stepping away from school, I felt refreshed. I was very eager to return to academic work that MFS prepared me so well for.”
Once on the Harvard campus, Jake found himself enjoying his English seminars and poetry workshops the most.
“One of the best things about poetry is it stands opposed to a lot of things in culture that I use all the time, like Twitter and Instagram, in that there is a quality of depth and seriousness, which is nice,” said Jake. “Poetry is an opposite force to the constant interaction and confrontation that we consume. Compared to other forms of writing, it’s the closest we can get to our own thinking processes and emotions since there are not as many rules or structures that poetry needs to fit into. Poets are able to get at bare emotions and experiences that other mediums look at from afar.”
He further explained how the typical first person narrative of poetry allows for a deeper connection between reader and author.
“My favorite experience in reading a poem is when I feel that I wrote it and lived it, and creating that feeling of a shared experience is harder to do in other mediums,” said Jake. “As a poet, I write not just for myself but I hope my reader gets it and is with me. I write every night as a way of checking in with myself but also connecting to other people.”
In 2015, Jake’s work was honored by the Harvard Department of English with the Edward Eager Memorial Fund Prize and the Le Baron Russell Briggs Traveling Fellowship, and, two years later, he is nearly finished compiling his graduate portfolio of work at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the oldest creative writing program in the country offering an M.F.A. credential. His thesis is the first step towards developing a manuscript to be published as a book.
Following the completion of his master’s program, Jake plans to remain at Iowa and continue teaching undergraduate introductory literature classes, but will consider alternative options as well. Already proving himself to be unafraid to forge his own life path, Jake attributed his mentality of independence to his parents.
“Both my parents switched professions mid-career and, because of them, I feel that it’s never too late to do almost anything,” said Jake. “While I can, I want to explore as much as possible and seek a balance of being practical while pursuing something I feel passionate about.”
Jake is the brother of Esther Montgomery ’12 and son of Upper School Religion/Philosophy Teacher Sarah Rosenson and Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.