Michael Collier said his books don’t have a singular overall theme, and neither does his latest poetry collection, My Bishop and Other Poems.
“These books push back against an easy thematic description,” said Collier, a poetry professor at the University of Maryland.
The collection was launched at a small reception in Tawes Hall Tuesday, the latest in a series of faculty book launches run by the English department’s Center for Literary and Comparative Studies, said center director Edlie Wong.
Collier discussed the collection with creative writing professor Maud Casey in front of a crowd of just under two dozen staff members and students.
Collier’s collection is made up of two long poems and several short ones. He wrote the shorter pieces to be “in conversation” with other poets, such as Emily Dickinson, Thomas Hardy and Wallace Stevens.
“All poetry is in conversation with other poetry,” Collier said.
One of the longer poems, “My Bishop,” is about Collier’s friendship with a bishop from Phoenix who suppressed information about pedophilic priests. He said it would have been “odd” not to have it as the titular poem.
“That was the hardest poem to write,” he said. “I felt as if I had to say things and dig deeper inside than ever before.”
The other longer poem, “The Storm,” is inspired by the January 1982 crash of Air Florida Flight 90 on the Potomac River. The poem, which took a while to “germinate,” also details Collier’s experiences with his father’s death and a college roommate’s suicide.
Even though the crash occurred more than 30 years ago, he did not finish the poem until 2015. Collier, who said he’s not usually a patient person, is “not in any hurry” when it comes to poetry.
Another poem, “Len Bias, a Bouquet of Flowers, and Ms. Brooks,” is about when late U.S. Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks came to the university in 1986 to speak in the Art-Sociology Building. Maryland basketball player Len Bias delivered her a bouquet of flowers during the lecture, and died months later from a drug overdose.
Maiasia Grimes, a creative writing graduate student, attended the book launch to have a better understanding of the poems when she reads them herself.
“Being able to hear a poet read their own work and just be able to hear the pauses and the breaks they put into it, it changes the way you encounter it later on,” Grimes said.
Collier’s collection was published last year, but the launch was pushed to this year after the death of his colleague, Stanley Plumly, one of the people to whom the collection is dedicated. Collier said that, in a way, this launch was a way to honor Plumly.
Future book launches in the series will showcase works by staff members Ralph Bauer, Jessica Enoch and Rion Amilcar Scott.