Waters, Michael (George)
WATERS, Michael (George)
Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 23 November 1949. Education: State University of New York, Brockport, 1967–70, 1971–72, B.A. 1971, M.A. 1972; University of Nottingham, England, 1970–71; University of Iowa, Iowa City, 1972–74, M.F.A. 1974; Ohio University, Athens, 1975–77, Ph.D. 1977. Family: Married 1) Robin Irwin 1972 (divorced 1992), one daughter; 2) Mihaela Moscalivc in 1999. Career: Instructor, Ohio University, Athens, 1977–78; visiting professor, University of Athens, Greece, 1981–82; writer-inresidence, Sweet Briar College, Sweet Briar, Virginia, 1987–89; visiting professor, University of Maryland, 1995. Since 1978 professor, Salisbury State University, Maryland. Awards: National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1984; Pushcart prizes, 1984, 1990; Towson State University prizes for literature, 1985, 1990; Individual Artist awards, Maryland State Arts Council, 1990, 1992, 1997. Address: Department of English, Salisbury State University, Salisbury, Maryland 21801, U.S.A.
Fish Light. Ithaca, New York, Ithaca House, 1975.
Not Just Any Death. Brockport, New York, BOA Editions, 1979.
Anniversary of the Air. Pittsburgh, Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1985.
The Burden Lifters. Pittsburgh, Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1989.
Bountiful. Pittsburgh, Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1992.
Green Ash, Red Maple, Black Gum. Brockport, New York, BOAEditions, 1997.
New & Selected Poems. Brockport, New York, BOA Editions, 2000.
Editor, Dissolve to Island: On the Poetry of John Logan. Houston, Ford-Brown Company, 1984.
Editor, with A. Pulin, Jr., Contemporary American Poetry (7th edition). Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 2000.*
Critical Studies: In The Post-Confessionals: Conversations with American Poets of the Eighties edited by Earl G. Ingersoll, Judith Kitchen, and Stan Sanvel Rubin, Rutherford, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1989; "Loss and Redemption" by Floyd Collins, in Gettysburg Review (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania), 11(4), winter 1998.* * *
The rise of American creative writing programs in the latter half of the twentieth century has exerted conflicting influence on the art itself. On the one hand, these programs have trained and nurtured enthusiastic readers who might never have come to poetry for more than a passing experience. On the other hand, they have often insulated the art from society's larger conditions, encouraging a contemporary version of art for art's sake—or of art for therapy's sake or imitation in the name of art. This latter influence has generated a few recognizable period styles—the poem of autobiographical meditation, the poem of solipsistic exposition—yet it is the poetry that both acknowledges and transcends these limitations that we come to read over again.
Like the majority of poets of his generation, Michael Waters has often made his living by teaching in the academy. But unlike many of his peers, Waters in his poetry never loses sight of the multifaceted connections between his immediate experience and that of the world beyond the university. Water's intelligence has been described as "restless," and that seems right enough, but I would add that it is expansive too. If the poet's business is largely empathy, then Waters opens himself to humanity's triumphs and trials without hesitation, and his consummate skill enables him to perform the role of a most reliable witness. In his poems Waters roams widely for inspiration, from a mid-nineteenth-century free love settlement, to a keeper of lighthouses, to Saint Paul himself. Throughout his several volumes one encounters a healthy, refreshing curiosity about others. The poems most directly emerge out of Waters's urban background and extensive travels in Greece, Costa Rica, Thailand, and elsewhere. Often they are formal, arranged in taut stanzas and making effective use of both end and internal rhyme. Most significantly, even when they begin in personal experience, they often connect with—and help to make sense of—the experience of others.
In "Burning the Dolls," from The Burden Lifters, Waters draws on an odd bit of American history. At a free love settlement in 1851 in Oneida, New York, the commune's children voted to burn their dolls because they represented motherhood. One of the girls speaks throughout the poem:
And when the burning was done,
when her white, Sunday dress
was transformed to ash
and each perfect, grasping
finger melted upon the coals,
when her varnished face burst
in the furnace of my soul,
the waxy lips forever lost,
then I knew I'd no longer pray,
even with fire haunting me,
because I hadn't resembled
closely enough my mother,
hadn't withheld my burgeoning
desire, so like a doll
concealing what I'd learned
I burned and burned and burned.
The dexterity of Water's method can be seen in the internal rhyme of "mother"/"desire," linking the end of the third stanza above to the fourth stanza (line two) and in the emphatic concluding rhyme ("learned"/"burned"), which through repetition becomes a grim chant. The poem is also notable for its haunting depiction of lost innocence and inherited consequences, the resignation that often accompanies the bearing of legacies into a new generation and beyond. Waters consistently and skillfully explores responsibilities and consequences such as these, and by doing so he merits our closest attention.