By PAULETTE PARKER
He stands tall at the front of the class, his gray slacks and olive green suit jacket draping his slim frame. He gently sweeps away his brown tresses as they fall onto his forehead. He rustles a bundle of paper, each sheet a snapshot in time.
Maxine Gibson’s Writing Fundamentals students are privy to this glimpse into the life of former Washtenaw Community College student and current WCC operations assistant, Michael Moriarty.
His stanzas rhythmically reverberate off the walls, weaving stories. His soul pours through the pages and out of his mouth. The class listens eagerly, their attention undivided. He exudes confidence; a far cry from the shy guy he once was, growing up in Ann Arbor.
“School was hard for me. I had a hard time feeling comfortable; kind of got picked on,” Moriarty said. “I had a hard time making friends; was kind of not doing well in classes.” Most of Moriarty’s positive reinforcement came from participating in sports, at which he excelled. But toward the end of high school, he began writing creatively for fun.
“I got really passionate about that and started to feel like I wanted to cultivate more of an intellectual self,” Moriarty said. “Once I had a pursuit that I cared about that involved some kind of an academic thing, all of a sudden the other subjects were more interesting too.” His first performance was in a creative writing class.
“I remember being nervous to the point where I was shaking so hard that you could hear the paper shaking,” he laughed. He soon found himself engaged in the local poetry scene.
“It was like immersion therapy for me, for shyness,” Moriarty said. “Going up and performing in front of all these people and stuff was really scary, but also like really, really cathartic because then it was like, if I can handle that then surely I can talk to someone I don’t know.”
After high school, Moriarty attended WCC, where he received his associate degree in liberal arts. He didn’t even know if he was smart enough to go to college until he came to WCC, he said.
“I was just starting to find my footing with writing,” Moriarty said. “This was where I started to feel like I could do this; I could do college. It was the first time I felt like I had something to offer intellectually or creatively.”
After graduating from WCC, Moriarty continued his education at Eastern Michigan University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing.
In his time at WCC, Moriarty formed a bond with English instructor James “Jas” Obrecht. After watching Moriarty perform at a poetry event at the University of Michigan, Obrecht approached him about working together on a book, Moriarty said.
“It was apparent from the start that Michael was a far-above-average writer,” Obrecht said. “He had an instinctual ability to use the active voice and cut all unneeded words – essential traits for a poet.” Together they produced Moriarty’s first book, “The Ill Lad and the Odd MC.” Obrecht invested in financing and publishing the book himself.
“I’d worked on a music magazine for 20 years and had written and edited several books about music, so I knew the ins and outs of publishing,” Obrecht said. “Working with Mike on the book was a labor of love for both of us. I especially enjoyed sitting around the kitchen table with him talking about possible edits and how to arrange the poems.”
“The whole thing wouldn’t exist without him,” Moriarty said. “And it was really nice to have him believe in me. And I was really proud when I paid him back in full for printing the book.” The works in “The Ill Lad” span different periods in Moriarty’s life.
“There’s a lot of childhood in there. I think the book is kind of me finding my footing as a person,” Moriarty said. “There’s lots of struggling for identity, for a sense of safety, for a sense of home.” Once out of college, Moriarty had less time to dedicate to the poetry performance scene. He has also found a new love in songwriting, and plays the piano and guitar.
“I wouldn’t say I’m done with it, but I think with the songwriting stuff and working full time, I don’t have as much room for it as I used to when I was in college; but it’s never going to go away,” Moriarty said.
He also visits English classrooms, sharing his work, which he said are his favorite venues.
“I just like the environment; and the students are always really friendly and they just want to learn,” Moriarty said, “and they want to ask questions, and talk about writing and things like that.” He is a frequent visitor to the classroom of his former instructor, Maxine Gibson.
“What I love about Mike’s writing is that he writes about everyday things that he makes extraordinary,” Gibson said during a class visit. “His work has humor and poignancy, and it will make you feel glad that you’re a human being.”
WCC graphic design major, Rachel Sheffield, 24, of Ann Arbor, is a student in one of Gibson’s classes that Moriarty has visited.
“His poetry was very amazing and it was unexpected entertainment,” Sheffield said. “It emits emotion; I feel like I connected with him tremendously.” Although his path may be changing, Moriarty hopes to continue to use writing to not only connect with other people on a level that regular conversation does not allow, but also to continue learning about himself.
“If I can really dig far enough in a poem and find the beauty in a really difficult moment, or find the joy amidst a lot of sadness or something like that, then it doesn’t just exist there on the page,” Moriarty said. “It happens in me too; and so it’s like I can see myself grow. It’s a chance to connect with another person and a chance to connect more on a deeper level with yourself.”