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Poet laureate is well-versed

July 09, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Arizona summers pointed a young Michael Collier to the cool comfort of his hometown library, giving him a bookish upbringing that brought the now state poet laureate to Washington County Free Library on Tuesday in hopes of luring area residents back to the lyrical language.

Collier, who was named poet laureate of Maryland by former Gov. Parris Glendening in 2001, spun in poetry stories of his childhood memories and adulthood epiphanies for more than 30 listeners Tuesday night in the lower level of the county library.

Taking breaks to field questions from audience members asking for inspirational tips, poetry definitions and editing techniques, Collier replied repeatedly that reading is fundamental and that poetry, as hard as it is to define, is what you make of it.

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Poetry's role is "to keep us alive as human beings to the wide range of human experience that is embodied in language," he said.

Collier, who read about six poems between talking sets, said he often reads out loud as he's writing because he wants to know what it feels like coming out of his body.

Reading from one of his poems entitled "The Barber" Collier described the razor-wielding character as a "fat, inconsolable man" whose mission was "to make raw and stubble all that grew in this world."

He compared a poet and a novelist to a sprinter and a long-distance runner.

Collier, who is the co-director of the creative writing program at the University of Maryland, College Park, admitted he doesn't have the endurance to write at length, but often dreams at length about doing it.

Mary Ellen Scallion, 64, of Hagerstown, said she, although not poetically inclined, loves poetry and especially loves hearing it read aloud, which she said gives it a new dimension.

Nick Shillinger, 63, of Smithsburg, said he felt he was in another dimension when listening to Collier.

He enjoyed the poetry even though it didn't rhyme in the way he remembered writing it in school.

"I've been away from school for too long," he said.

Mary Baykon, director of the library, offered Shillinger and others the opportunity to refresh their poetry education by checking out the library's poetry section.

Collier's most recent works include "The Ledge," "The Neighbor," "The Folded Heart" and "The Clasp and Other Poems."

His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, The New Republic and Poetry.

He has received a Pushcart Prize, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among others.

He said he has given readings at mostly libraries and community colleges in 12 counties in the state during his term, which he said will last indefinitely.

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