The first poem in Michael Collier's fourth collection, The Ledge
, suggests a difference between youthful readers and mature ones. The young read more quickly, as though they'll be asked to recount the plot highlights. Older readers relish the details, using literature to slide their own lives under the magnifying glass. "Argos" is an excellent prelude, which prepares us for The Ledge
's roundabout insights and surprising truths.
Collier's poetry often addresses large-scale questions of faith--or at least questions that used to be large-scale and have now been deflated by ironic disbelief. Probably every century since the advent of Christianity has witnessed innumerable mock crucifixions, with girls pretending to hammer a boy onto a cross while he lolls his head "in that familiar / defeated way." In the past, the game might have provoked terror, or empathy, or at least awe at the sheer sinfulness of humans. In our era, however, the boy's penis stiffens comically, "like one of Satan's fingers":
I was dying a savior's death and yet
what my sisters called my "thing,"
struggled against extinction
as if its resurrection could not be held off
by this playful holy torture.
Using such sneaky, colloquial humor, Collier expertly discriminates between the rarefied thoughts we're supposed to have and the ones we actually have.
Elsewhere, Collier writes about the emotional burdens that fathers and sons are doomed to place on each other. In "The Hammer," an adult recalls losing his father's treasured hammer, and covering his tracks with a lie that has never fully vanished. "The Choice" finds a child struggling with a similar agony: is it better to dissemble or disappoint? Collier's voice in The Ledge is consistently that of one thoughtful, reasonable father talking to another--and maybe, some years from now, to the son who has finally become a father himself. --John Ponyicsanyi
From Publishers Weekly
Collier builds many of his poems around a single incident, whether his speaker is caught lying, in naked boyhood, on a bathroom floor while his sisters conduct a mock-crucifixion, or is simply being captivated by a man who crashes through a country club's plate-glass door. In this, Collier's fourth book, such ruminations still have their descriptive charms, but generally lack the dramatic urgency necessary to sustain the book as a whole. At times, Collier attempts to up the ante by invoking the mythical likes of an Odysseus or Sisyphus, but such figures often end up being trivialized. In "Pay-Per-View," for example, Collier compares the distorted images of a scrambled hotel porno flick to Pandora's "winged souls that once escaped/ from her exquisite jar--the shadows of our pains, the venom/ carriers of our desires." A plethora of animal poems prove capable vehicles for some nice phrasal and observational turns: a snake's skin is "a loose diamond basket weave"; "The New Opossum" is an "upholder of middle-class values,/ and link to a romantic past"; while the "Brave Sparrow" is playfully exhorted to "Stay where you are, you lit fuse, you dull spark of saltpeter and sulfur." Still, domestic scenes that confront a young son with "the puddle of urine/ beneath the toilet" or the rabbit-killing dog of "A Real-Life Drama" don't reverberate in the manner Collier seems to be aiming for, making images like "[h]is cock,/ a huge suppurating rudder, stirred the sulfuric/ ocean of his realm" (describing Cerberus) seem desperate stays against bourgeois ennui. (Apr..--is cock,/ a huge suppurating rudder, stirred the sulfuric/ ocean of his realm" (describing Cerberus) seem desperate stays against bourgeois ennui. (Apr.)
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