An Individual History

Michael Collier, Author
Michael Collier. Norton, $25.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-0-393-08249-4
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A speaker recalls a childhood of Catholic Mass being administered to a church organist with a grotesque mouth (“missing molars,/ silver fillings, and the yellowish, veined,/ smoker’s tongue”) and visits from an eccentric grandmother, whose grinning mink stole rode her shoulder like an unsettling second self. A man contemplating his infertility relates some memorably phrased advice from a neighbor regarding his predicament: “Boxers,/ that’ll keep ’em loose and cool.” Collier’s sixth collection engages with childhood, fatherhood, and family life, in the living present and memorial past, a history explored with brilliantly precise detail and originality of perspective. Yet many poems amplify and extend the traditional familial ground this book inhabits—it’s hard at times not to recall Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, especially in Collier’s title poem, which touches on what Lowell termed the “tranquilized Fifties” of madness, mental institutions, and communist panic—suggesting the complexities and entanglements of autobiographical writing. Nature often serves as analogue for familial relationships. “Necrophoresis” describes bees’ practice of carrying bee corpses from a hive, and “To a Horseshoe Crab” portrays some dire mating habits. The longest poem, “History,” is the volume’s unequivocal high point—a dream-suffused self-interrogation of Collier’s own youthful travels across Siberia, where he meets and uncomfortably befriends a Nazi sympathizer. (July)
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