A mission to bring poetry to all

August 05, 2004|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

A family vacation, a fleeting sensual moment, reading with a daughter on the couch: This is the stuff of daydreams - and the stuff of Michael S. Glaser's poems.

He always has sought to share these poems, and those of others, with as many people as possible. Since he came to St. Mary's College of Maryland as a professor of English in 1970, Glaser has been a champion of poetry in the classroom, at the bi-annual literary festival he founded, and at readings around the state for audiences of all ages.

FOR THE RECORD - The credit for a photograph of Maryland poet laureate Michael S. Glaser in yesterday's Today section misspelled the photographer's name. The photo was taken by Lucille Clifton. The Sun regrets the error.

As Maryland's newly appointed poet laureate, the nature of Glaser's efforts will change little; his loosely defined task is to bring poetry to all corners of Maryland. But the honorary post lends official gravitas to a pursuit that is rarely recognized by cost-cutting governmental bodies.

In appointing Glaser this week, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. praised his energy: "For more than 30 years, Michael Glaser has invested a tremendous amount of effort to bring poetry into the lives of all Marylanders and will continue to share his tremendous gift as Maryland's new poet laureate."

Glaser succeeds Catonsville poet Michael Collier in the position. It also has been held in the past by his colleague Lucille Clifton before she came to St. Mary's College in 1989, as well as Linda Pastan and the late Roland Flint.

Glaser, 61, says he is still "formulating" his job description. "I'm very passionate about poetry and what it gives our lives and the way it enables us to reflect upon ourselves and our world and our relationship to it," he says. As he travels around the state, the poet, who has more than 300 published works, wants to introduce audiences to others' poems as well as his own. "The [poet laureate] office is about poetry, and not about me," he says.

A friend and former colleague, Judith Hall, poetry editor of The Antioch Review, praises Glaser's "tireless promotion of poets." "Michael is an experimenter, an original voice," she says by phone from Los Angeles. "He speaks from the soul."

Glaser isn't using poetry to tell others how to live their lives, says Maggie O'Brien, president of St. Mary's College. "It is a language to him and he uses it for the benefit of others trying to interpret their lives."

Glaser views his work as an exercise in honesty, rarely practiced on the more flip side of popular culture. "When we can no longer recognize authentic, truthfully spoken language, we become lost as a civilization," he says. "When advertisers and others are pretending to be our friends and trying to sell us things we don't need, [it is] literature, art, language of art that helps us keep hearing the authentic sound. I think that's part of the real importance of the arts in our society."

Glaser's most recent book, Being a Father, was published in July (Bunny and Crocodile Press for Seasonings Press, St. Mary's City, $12.95 ). In it, the father of five children, ages 19 to 34, wrestles with the challenges of being a parent.

His wife, Kathleen Glaser, loves the way her husband's accounts of a trip to Europe with their two daughters found its way from his travel diary into his poetry. Several poems are "about a particular day or experience we had in Italy or Spain," she says. The poems "bring back the memory in a deeper way than a photograph does."

Glaser deliberately writes verse that doesn't try to outsmart readers. "I think a lot of people are mystified by poetry because it has been presented to them in a way that makes them feel poetry is not accessible," he says.

As Maryland's poet laureate, Glaser would like to share poetry's rewards with even more people than he has so far: "My fantasy would be that a whole lot more people in Maryland would say, `Wow, I like poetry. I like turning to poetry and reading poetry as a way of enriching my life.'"

Vacation

Come bed time

and my wife is reading her book

and my eldest daughter is doing

leg-lifts while talking

to her younger sister

and she calls out from the other room

"Mommy, wake me early, please

so I can go to the beach

before we check out at noon."

And then I turn my bed light off

and lie on top of the cool sheets,

and I call out to my daughters,

"I love you guys" and I turn

and stroke my wife's cheek

and say I love you to her

and she pauses from her reading

to look me

right in the eye

and say, "I love you, too"

just about exactly the way

I always imagined my wife

and the mother of my children

would do.

Michael S. Glaser

Title: Head of the Division of Arts and Letters at St. Mary's College of Maryland.

Age: 61

Wife: Kathleen Glaser

Children: Brian, Joshua, Daniel, Amira and Eva

Selected works: A Lovers's Eye, In the Men's Room and Other Poems. Also edited two poetry anthologies: The Cooke Book (1989) and Weavings: 200: The Maryland Millennial Anthology.

Birthplace: Chicago

Education: B.A. from Denison University, M.A. and Ph.D. from Kent State University

Selected achievements: Co-founded the Literary Festival of St. Mary's College, liaison to the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies in Oxford, England, a Maryland State Arts Council Poet-in-the-Schools for nearly 20 years.

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