The Threshold of Light by poet Michael Glaser reminds me why I like chapbooks as much as I do. A chapbook is a small collection, often a third or less the size of a regular collection. It’s a sampling of a poet’s work, often drawn from individual poems already published. It can be as simple as 8 ½-by-11 sheets of paper folded and center-stitched with a slightly heavier paper cover, or it can have an artistically designed format, like this one by Glaser.
Its 21 poems all relate to light in some way — dawn, the beginning of the day, a morning walk, how light changes in different geographies, how light is muffled by fog. But light is also a metaphor, and Glaser uses it in similar but also slightly different ways. Light can represent awareness, knowledge, beginnings, wisdom, energy, life, and grace. In fact, in this collection, he seems to use it mostly as a metaphor for awareness and grace. In this poem, it’s both.
Before the Morning Paper
before the morning paper,
when our children, not yet realizing
that we have left the garden,
come tumbling in for morning hugs—
before the morning paper,
dutifully subscribed to and fearfully read
I stop to inhale the blessings of this day,
to remind myself to carry them
into the world that waits,
like the morning paper, just beyond the door.
It’s easy to identify with this poem — that is, if you subscribe to a print newspaper. It’s the moment of waking in the morning, just as half-light begins to fill the room. You see your spouse lying next to you asleep, at the moment when your children come rushing into the room (ours knew better than to do this and wake their mother). The children have not yet realized that “we have left the garden,” that the world is not a perfect place like the Garden of Eden.
And out there, just beyond the door, waits the morning newspaper, with its reports of disasters, crime, corruption, and general mayhem. But inside, the home and sanctuary are as yet untouched, and that sense of perfection and grace is what we carry from the home outward.
From 2004 to 2009, Glaser was poet laureate of Maryland. He is professor emeritus of St. Mary’s College in Maryland and has received a number of awards for both his poetry and his teaching. He has been a Maryland State Arts Council poet-in-the-schools for more than 25 years. He and his wife Kathleen co-lead retreats on the meaning of reading and writing of poetry for “self-reflection, personal growth, and purposeful engagement in the world.” His poetry has been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies, and his published collections include A Lover’s Eye, In the Men’s Room and Other Poems, Being a Father, Fire Before the Hands, Remembering Eden, and Disrupting Consensus.
The Threshold of Light is published by Bright Hill Press, which produces several lines of chapbooks and poetry collections. It’s a beautifully designed small book. Its physical size (4 by 6 inches) makes it no larger (and not much thicker) than a postcard — ideal to take with you on morning hikes and walks.
If you haven’t previously read Glaser’s poetry, this small volume is an excellent introduction. It’s a short collection, as chapbooks are, but it’s filled with beauty and grace. And light, of course.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish