Michael S. Glaser, a professor of English at St. Mary's College of Maryland, has been appointed Maryland poet laureate. Glaser, who grew up in Illinois, has been on the St. Mary's faculty since 1970. He has written two books of poems, and he founded the annual Literary Festival at the college more than 20 years ago. As poet laureate, he said, he hopes to reach people across the state, reading poems that he loves and encouraging people to write. He answered questions from staff writer Susan Kinzie.
Q Why did you start writing poems?
A I was a freshman in college, and I had a girlfriend named Joy, so I wrote "An Ode to Joy." I'm glad I don't still have a copy of it.
Was she impressed?
Not at all. Nor was I. And my English teacher -- I turned it in to my freshman composition class -- wrote, "Let's stick to good old-fashioned prose before we go off into the realms." . . . It was six or seven years before I turned in another poem.
Did you know, growing up, that you would become a poet?
I think I always wanted to teach. I really love the life of the mind and engaging in ideas. . . . I don't think I knew it would be English until I read "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" [by T. S. Eliot]. I got very excited about the way language could work. I think poetry baffled me a lot. When I started reading Prufrock, I understood it.
Do your students have that response to that poem?
No. I don't think I have taught it in about 10 years -- and probably because students do find it a little baffling. . . . Maybe it's mostly accessible to insecure males. Prufrock was an older, insecure guy. I was a sophomore in college, an insecure guy. I could really connect to his fear of being embarrassed, his fear of being a fool. It [let me cut] through all the things English teachers do with that poem, which I still probably don't understand. But it did speak to me about the human character Eliot was writing about, his desire to be loving and kind . . . and not be misunderstood. . . .
I'm less interested in poetry as an academician than I am as a person. I read literature because it helps me understand and make sense of my life, not because it's an academic discipline.
Do you see poems that make you cringe?
Yes, poetry that's mean, evil, ugly, nasty . . .
You mean poems that tap into rage or anger or disgust?
No, there's a lot to feel rage about, and for many people in this world it's important that they give voice to that rage, important that other people hear it. I'm thinking more of poetry that's sexist, that's abusive, that is demeaning to other people.
You wrote a poem about the lines on a piece of paper staring back at you.
That was also a poem inspired by William Packard. . . . He has a line in one of his poems, "My train of thought is a great long freight train pulling 6372 carloads of canaries, each one tweeting sweetly to itself." That inspired me; how one gets one's thoughts focused enough, how the blank page keeps saying you don't know what you're talking about.
Is it daunting to write your poems?
The daunting leap is the sharing. I love the writing, love the revising. It's a way of discovering how we think and feel. . . . It helps me know who I am.
What's it like to share a poem you've just written?
It's like going on a first date: "Here's my poem -- here's who I am. What do you think?"