John Robert "Jack" Mueller, who taught poetry and sailing in New Orleans before gaining prominence among the post-Beat poets in the San Francisco Bay area, died of cancer Thursday in Grand Junction, Colorado. He was 74.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, renowned poet and co-founder of the landmark City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, said, “Jack Mueller is the biggest-hearted poet I have ever known.”
Mueller published six collections of poems and two books of sketches, most notably "Amor Fati" (Lithic Press, 2013). A reviewer praised his approach to “almost exclusively cosmic questions — about mortality, love and our relationship to language.”
He created art wherever he went, making sketches and short poems on bar napkins, coasters and index cards, according to his brother, Gordon "Nick" Mueller, president and CEO of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
Family and friends knew him from his memorable coinages and sign-offs, such as “Stay solid in the mystery,” “All power to the paradox” or “Drive recklessly and at very high speeds.”
Mueller was born in Philadelphia in 1942, the youngest of four boys, and grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. His parents had emigrated from Germany in the 1920s.
He earned a bachelor's degree from William Jewell College and a master's from George Washington University before joining the Peace Corps in India, where poetry became his passion and life’s pursuit.
In 1970, he moved to New Orleans, where his father had become a professor of church history and theology at the Baptist Theological Seminary in 1960.
In the early 1970s, Jack Mueller was poet-in-residence at McDonogh 15 Elementary School in the French Quarter and founded the New Orleans Sailing School with his brother Nick. "That was a way to pay for the boat that we couldn't afford," Nick Mueller said.
It was during this time that Jack Mueller met Judith Faust of New Orleans; they would be married for 21 years and have one child, Cristina.
Mueller moved to San Francisco in 1975. For the next 20 years the Bay Area would be his home, where he devoted himself to his own poetry and to public arts programs as director of the National Poetry Association.
He maintained his ties to New Orleans, serving as director of cultural affairs for the University of New Orleans summer program in Europe, which his brother Nick established in 1973 while a history professor at UNO.
In connection with the UNO-Innsbruck International Summer School, Jack Mueller organized the Alpine Symposium for Poetry and Literature featuring San Francisco poet Robert Duncan and other major European poets and literary figures.
In 1997, Mueller moved to McAllen, Texas, where he served as director of the International Museum of Art and Science. In 2003, he settled in Ridgway, Colorado, where he continued to publish his poems and give readings.
“Jack was a bold and fearless poet whose words and ideas challenged fellow travelers to explore the agonies and ecstasies of life with courage and heart,” Nick Mueller said.
His daughter, Cristina Mueller, said her father had a difficult time in the hospital for the past four months, but he would teach doctors, nurses and the hospital cleaning staff one of his short poems:
You will never
I will never
Love starts there.
Besides his brother, he is survived by his daughter, Cristina Marie Faust Mueller, and a granddaughter.