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Michael Fallon looks back on success, failure and the intimacy of telling stories

UMBC is teeming to the brim with talented and interesting individuals. Though our university is known for its STEM programs, we have brilliant professors and directors across the board. This week, The Retriever spoke with one of those masters of his craft, Michael Fallon from the English department.

Fallon has been teaching creative writing, literature and composition full-time at UMBC since 1985. His poems have appeared in the American Scholar, Sin Fronteras and the Oyez Review and his reviews, essays and articles have appeared in the Maryland English Journal, Lite Magazine and the Loch Raven Review. Fallon has won multiple awards for his collections of poetry, including two Maryland State Arts Council Fellowships in 1988 and 2009 and the first prize at the Plan B Press Poetry Chapbook Competition in 2011 for his collection, “Since You Have No Body.”

Despite the heavy focus on STEM subjects at UMBC, Fallon believes that the community does an exceptional job staying active in fine arts. “I think the new Performing Arts Building itself says a lot about UMBC’s commitment to the arts – not to mention the fact that the English department is on the fourth floor with such a beautiful view of the Baltimore skyline,” Fallon said.

“Personally, I really love the sculpture that was chosen for the front of the building,” Fallon continued. “I like the way it echoes Stonehenge – such amazing shadows a different times of day – and a sense of Greek or Roman ruins at the same time. I just really like working in a building that is bursting with artistic ferment and activity.”

From these ideas alone, Fallon made it clear that he is a man who lives and breathes poetry. He explained that his love for poetry blossomed at a very young age. “I come from a big Irish family where jokes and stories are told at every gathering. There is a love of conversation and an appreciation of the beauty of the spoken word,” he said.

“I love the sense of intimacy and community that stories and poems create, so I discovered very young the great pleasure of making something out of words,” Fallon said.

This life-long love of poetry ended up carving a path for Fallon’s career as a writer and professor. According to Fallon, UMBC is a fantastic environment for writers like himself. “I think UMBC has clearly shown its interested in hiring writers and promoting the literary arts. We now have Lia Purpura as Writer in Residence and at least eight other English faculty who are actively writing and publishing,” said Fallon. “We also have a very good reading series featuring nationally prominent poets and writers.”

Nonetheless, Fallon believes the University could do more for its writers. “I think we could do more to promote the writers here on campus and help support their work by making some UMBC grants available to them,” he said.

This semester, though, Fallon has not been present among his fellow UMBC writers as he’s been on sick leave to recover from throat cancer. Thankfully, he reports that he’s made it back to “3/4 strength” and is recovering well. His experience with throat cancer has allowed him to look back fondly on his career at UMBC, which he will be closing out fairly soon.

“When you are diagnosed with cancer, there is a certain chance that the cancer will kill you. This does tend to make you reexamine your life and decide how you are going to live if you recover and survive,” he said. “You don’t want to waste time, but to do only what is most worth doing.”

“I am retiring soon and my teaching career is ending. I do not regret a moment of it,” said Fallon.

Fallon ended our time by reflecting on the students of UMBC: what they have taught him and his words of advice for them as writers and as people. “I have learned so much from my students about what is beautiful and meaningful,” he said. “To the writers of UMBC, you are a writer only if you don’t give up. You have failed only if you are the only one who honestly thinks so. Failing is much easier and more common than success, so do it often and keep going. There is always a bit of success in failure and a bit of failure in success. Look for it. Learn from it.”