Crisick combines her love of poetry, Morocco
By Paul Stevens
A love of poetry and literature is a generational thing for Maureen Micus Crisick — a love inherited from her grandmother and mother, shared with her brother Ed and extended to her own two daughters.
“Writing for me is hearing the sounds and the rhythm of the words,” she said. “I just fell in love with the language. It’s in my DNA.”
Crisick has combined her love of poetry with a second passion — the north African country of Morocco, where a collection of her poems was published in 2018 in a book printed in both English and Arabic and where she founded the Moroccan Angels Project that helps further the education of girls in need. She lives in Walnut Creek, California, with her husband William.
The seeds of her life’s passions were planted at the Micus home, a “little green house” on Second Avenue South, since demolished, across the street from Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where her mother Ruth Flattery Micus raised five children — Annamarie, twin brothers Ed and Bill, Maureen, and Mary Beth. Four were born in Chicago and Mary Beth was born in Fort Dodge. As a single mother, Ruth supported the family working as a secretary at Fort Dodge Laboratories. Her brother was District Court Judge Edward J. Flattery, who died in 1999.
The parents and grandparents of Ruth Flattery were pioneer farmers in the Fort Dodge area. She attended a two-room country school and was exposed to poetry when her mother Anna (who married Michael Flattery at Sacred Heart Church in 1905) would clip poems published in the Fort Dodge Messenger and put them into a booklet.
“My mother was from the old school, the old days of recitation,” Crisick said. “She had memorized those poems — Tennyson, Edgar Allen Poe and others — while on the farm. When she had her own family, she was always reciting those poems from memory. My brother Eddie said we grew up in iambic parameter. That was my mother’s style. ‘Oh mom,’ we’d say, ‘stop that, we’re on the 40th verse’.”
When she was a sophomore at St. Edmond High School, Crisick wrote her first poem and it was published in the school newspaper. “I was all of 16 years old,” she said.
All five Micus children graduated from St. Edmond and three of them — Ed, Bill and Maureen — are graduates of Mankato State University (now Minnesota State University). Bill attended the school on a football scholarship and Ed returned to Mankato to serve 20 years as assistant director of its Center for Academic Success. Ed, who Crisick said “had a great influence on my direction in life,” published a collection of his poems in 2009 in a book called The Infirmary that included stories from growing up in Fort Dodge and his U.S. Army service in Vietnam where he was wounded in combat.
When she graduated from Mankato State with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1969, Crisick said, a girlfriend suggested they move to California to look for jobs. “Off we went, I had $60 in my pocket,” she said. Crisick was a student teacher at the American School Foundation in Mexico City and in 1970 was hired to teach English and speech at Saint Vincent Ferrer High School in Vallejo, California. She later earned a master’s degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University and taught at the University of Phoenix Northern California campus.
Crisick introduced her daughters Rachel and Rebecca to poetry and, just as her own mother had done for her, she made it an everyday part of their lives growing up.
“We read poetry at the kitchen table. We would have this little ritual when they were 8 or 9 and we were going to school. I would throw out a line, say from T.S. Eliot, ‘Let us go then you and I’ — and they would give the next line, ‘As the evening is set against the sky.'”
Rachel, who has worked as a freelance writer, is married to Chris Hopkins and they have two daughters, Mae and Camille. Rebecca is an instructor at the San Francisco Art Institute.
Rachel had a hand in introducing her mother to Morocco while studying journalism in Spain.
“I came for a visit, and there was an opportunity to hop-skip to Morocco, only seven miles across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier,” Crisick said. “I thought, Why not? I booked a seven-day tour of Morocco, and when the time came to leave the country, I said to Morocco, ‘I’ll be back some day.’ So 20 years later when I applied for a Fulbright grant to teach American literature and poetry at a university near Rabat, I checked the little box on the form for Morocco and Voila! One click of the pen and a life changes.”
Crisick won a Fulbright Senior Scholar grant to Morocco in 2000-01 and was a professor of American Literature at the University of Kenitra. The experience spawned a love affair with Morocco — “full of kind people, gorgeous countryside, wonderful food, friendly people. If you invite a Moroccan to coffee at a cafe, plan on spending the whole afternoon!”
Her poetry work has been published in a variety of literary publications over the years and she has collaborated with other writers. Last year, she published her first solo book — “Going There” — that contains a collection of her poems — with subjects spanning Iowa to Morocco. The book was published in Casablanca — half in English, half in Arabic — and is being sold in Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia — and Morocco and the United States.
“I probably have written 200 to 300 poems over the years,” Crisick said. “But it’s not the quantity. I try to make each one good because they mean so much to me. I usually rewrite each 20 to 30 times.”
Her Moroccan Angels Project was started in 2015 as a way to help girls ranging in age from 13 to 17, many of them living in houses with dirt floors and no running water, to go on to high school in Foum Jamaa, 20 miles away. They live in a dormitory with bunk beds, running water and showers while attending classes during the school week and then return to their homes on weekends. The project covers the cost of room and board for a year.
“I spend a fair amount of time in the little Moroccan village, each spring and fall, so I know the 22 families, and all are in need,” she said. “Most live on the equivalent of 8 to 10 dollars per day. So it’s not difficult to find girls attending 8th grade (the last grade of primary school in the village), and who want to go on to high school. I stay in contact with the 8th grade teachers and find out which girls are motivated and the ones with the best grades.”
Crisick first covered the cost on her own but is now getting donations from family and from friends in the United States and Morocco. Tuition is provided by the Moroccan government.
“Last year, we had enough money for six angels (one in law school),” she said. “I paid their fees directly to the school, and had a little left over to take the kids tennis shoe shopping. Tennis shoes were required for their PE classes. They were thrilled. Later, their mothers left baskets of warm bread. Who could not love a woman who leaves fresh bread at your door?”