M.L. Liebler: American Poet, Professor, Activist

Detroit’s working-class champion of poetry wants everyone to experience true freedom of expression through literary arts.

A poet captures the free flow of ideas and feelings into written form, rousing powerful imagery and stirring emotions of the reader or listener. Among great contemporary poets is Professor Michael L. Liebler, recipient of many awards including the 2017-2018 Murray E. Jackson Scholar in the Arts Award from Wayne State University.

Beloved Poet and Teacher

Liebler is a senior lecturer at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan where he has been since 1980, teaching graduate and undergraduate courses on varied subjects including English, Creative Writing, American Studies, Labor Studies, Living Authors, and World Fiction. He is also recognized as a leading literary arts activist and organizer. To further educate and inspire people in the craft of writing, Liebler became the founding director of The National Writer’s Voice Project in Detroit as well as the Springfed Arts: Metro Detroit Writers Literary Arts Organization.

Called the “bard of Detroit” by the Detroit Free Press, he describes what we get from poetry in an interview with them, “What a poem does is pull you beyond the everydayness of things and makes you look at things closer. It’s a contemplative thing. You sit and read it or hear it and let ideas bubble up in your mind. All the arts speak to deeper, inner truth. If you open yourself to poetry, art, paintings or music, you inherently become more aware of things around you and become more intelligent.”

His works are widely published and met with international acclaim. Captivating audiences around the world, he has read and performed his work in Afghanistan, China, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Macao, Mexico, Palestine, Russia, Spain, United Kingdom, and nearly every state in the U.S.

Honors, Awards, and Grants

St. Clair Shores, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, honored their native son in 2005, naming Liebler as the first Poet Laureate. He is the nation’s first ever Artist in Residence for a Public Library at The Chelsea District Library, 2008-2009. Both the Detroit Free Press and Detroit’s Metro Times chose Liebler as the Best Detroit Poet. In 2010, he received the Barnes & Noble Poets & Writers for Writers Award. In 2011, he was presented with the Wayne State University President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

In 2013-2014, he was honored with the Knight Foundation Innovative Detroit Arts Award. Liebler was awarded the U.S. State Department Cultural and Educational Fulbright Specialist Grant for June 2016 to teach Detroit Studies and Culture at Leuphana University of Luneberg, Germany. He also received a grant for The Motown & Global Detroit Living Authors Learning Community and classes by the Provost’s Office for Retention Program in 2016. These are only but a short sampling from a long (actually, pages long) list of awards and grants Liebler has received.

Powerful Poetic Artistry

He has written numerous books and chapbooks including the multi-award-winning Wide Awake in Someone Else’s Dream published in 2008 featuring poems written in and about Russia, Israel, Germany, Alaska, and Detroit.

His anthology, Working Words: Punching the Clock & Kicking Out the James, received a 2011 Library of Michigan Notable Book Award. In 2016, a collection of his poems was released under to titles of I Want to Be Once, Heaven Was Detroit: An Anthology of Detroit Music Essays from Jazz to Hiphop, and Bob Seger’s House: An Anthology of Michigan Short Stories. A banner year for Liebler, both I Want to Be Once and Heaven Was Detroit won the Library of Michigan Notable Book Awards with Bob Seger’s House a close third. “First off, nobody gets two. That doesn’t happen. And secondly, nobody would get three. But I guess I came close to it,” Liebler says in an interview with Wayne University.

He’s made CD recordings starting in 1997, including Paper Ghost Rain Dance in 2001, The Kurl of the Butterfly’s Tongue in 2007, and Coyote & The Monk in 2012. A list of his reading performances seems endless which he does in the U.S. and internationally at events including the Hong Kong International Poetry Festival, London Poetry Society, University of Novosibirsk in Russia, and others.

Many have applauded him for his excellent work. Jorma Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna says, “M.L. Liebler writes poetry straight from the heart, expressing universal themes in a beautiful American way. There is always something new in his verse.”

And from Father Daniel Berrigan who says, “My friend M.L. is a paragon among poets. By this I mean not only as a skilled navigator through the byways of the heart, but as a poet who encourages other poets by offering them a platform and an audience. I salute his rare gifts of enthusiasm and altruism.”

Becoming a Poet

Born in 1953 to a working-class family and raised by his grandparents in Detroit, Michigan, Liebler took an interest in poetry at the early age of seven. He started writing down his feelings, but it wasn’t until the fifth grade that he realized he was writing poetry. And ever since, he’s written endless pages evoking strong images and emotions to his readers.

In the 70s, while in college, he took a creative writing course and teamed up with like-minded individuals to create an artist collective in St. Clair Shores where they held readings, art events, and film presentations. In 1980, he came to Wayne University and soon formed a poetry group. During the 80s, he was directing the Wayne Literary Review and started the Wayne Writers Forum. Around 1986, he became a board member and then president of the Poetry Resource Center of Michigan.

Always active, he enjoys keeping busy. Liebler is currently working on his memoir while continuing to write poetry, anthologies, and books. He is still a source of inspiration for young people, encouraging them to express themselves through opportunities such as open-mic events held at the local Jazz Café, put on by the Detroit Writer’s Guild, of which Liebler is president.

A love of writing seems to run in the family with his daughter becoming a writer and his son, a journalist. Learn more about Liebler, a great American poet who is helping to unleash the creativity in all of us, at www.mlliebler.com.