Finding Purpose in Poetry

Headshot of Dan Liberthson.

Dan Liberthson’s, PhD ’76, BA ’74, love of language inspired him to support his passions at UB.

A Pivotal Year

The year 2000 was pivotal for Dan Liberthson, PhD ’76, MA ’74. He turned 50 and embarked on the latter part of his life just as a new millennium began, a coincidence that catalyzed a profound change in how he thought about his goals in life.

Liberthson’s love of language had always run deep. But, after nearly three decades as a successful medical writer, he felt it was time to focus on his true passion: poetry. “I had written and published poems sporadically over the years,” he recalls, “but at 50 I realized that I had a lot more to say in poetry and time was growing short—so, I’d better start saying it.”

Liberthson began to design and write entire books of poems, illustrated with photos or drawings, about the most compelling experiences in his life, including family history, encounters with animals and birds and the game of baseball. Given his advancing age and lack of the usual track record, and wanting to design the books himself, he self-published them, in the tradition of Blake, Whitman and many other poets.

A Deeper Appreciation for Poetry

As a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in the humanities, Liberthson was offered a teaching fellowship in the English department. It was there he began to write more and gain a deeper appreciation for the craft of poetry. “I’ve always had a strong need to use language, to listen to it in my writing,” he says. “Along the way, I’ve written a few novels, but they were all somewhat poetic as well. Through poetry, I can really honor the language.”

Indebted to his alma mater for a foundation in the study and craft of poetry, Liberthson decided to give something back, via a bequest to the UB Libraries Poetry Collection, as “an acknowledgment of where I came from, and who helped me along the way.” His gift will establish the Liberthson Acquisition Fund for the Poetry Collection and the Liberthson Award for Independently Published Poetry.

The award is intended to encourage and reward independent poets like himself, who have atypical backgrounds outside academia and whose work is either self-published or printed by very small presses. “When you contribute financially to an area of your passion or your strength, it gives more to you than it takes from you,” Liberthson says. “This bequest is a contribution beyond my own life, one that will hopefully inspire future generations.”

Liberthson, who also has generously supported the Libraries’ James Joyce Collection, hopes his bequest will provide independent poets an incentive to fashion books of their own poems and share their work more broadly, regardless of when they begin to write. “This is an alternative path for people who didn’t start out writing poetry when they were younger,” he says. “Maybe they started out later, as I did, but they’re still looking for a way to share their work with the world.”

Writing poetry has enriched my life,” Liberthson says. “It feels good to build something in the world, and that’s what these gifts are about. I hope they will inspire others to value their own poetry, and make more of it.”

In Support of Independent Poets

The prize, which will fund poets who design and write their own books, is one Liberthson hopes will carry prestige, and more importantly, inspire future generations of writers to self-publish. “There are far more poets and writers than there are established slots for them to fill, which means some talented writers might not get the break they deserve,” he says. “I think there should be a reward for these authors, a way they can fulfill themselves and make their voices heard.”

In addition to the poetry prize, Liberthson’s gift will advance the Libraries’ goal of acquiring all publications of 20th and 21st century Anglophone poetry in English. “This will be a fitting way to use my own legacy to ensure the immortality of these works and the memory of their authors,” says Liberthson.

Published March 30, 2021