A new collection of poetry by the director of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, which celebrates its seventy-fifth anniversary in 2000. "Dark splendor" are the words Edward Hirsch uses to describe the poems of the award-winning author Michael Collier. Collier's new work balances on the ledge between the everyday and the unknown, revealing the hidden depths of relationships. The poems in THE LEDGE are narrative and colloquial, musical and crystalline, at once intimate and sharp-edged. They render the world beautifully mysterious as they slide into unexpected emotional territory. A son loses his father's favorite hammer, and with it his trust. In "The Wave," the enthusiastic crowd at a baseball game rises and sits in frightening unison, belying their hopeful cheering. In "Fathom and League," a dive two miles deep in the Pacific reveals the submerged volcanoes of the ocean and the soul. In many of the poems, the familiar animal world - of dogs and sparrows and possums in the yard - transfigures the view through a window.
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.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
March 23, 2000
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