- Book of Nature
Saddle Road Press
83 Pages; Print, $16.00
Michael Collins' new book, Appearances, is that remarkable phenomenon, a truly spiritual cluster of poems unified in their search for an acceptable and modern transcendentalism. The word "soul" recurs here as it does in Emerson's essays.
In "Pluvophilia," Collins writes that he is "Uncorpsed from my logical crusade / in the so-called other world of myth," by all the "gods and muses, nymphs and satyrs and / the sun, the figured stars, the winds, the / titans, Tartarus, Olympus, all / of the people becoming trees and // crows and flowers, lions, monsters..." who cannot fit into a unified belief. The "you" in this poem starts out as God and ends up as "I"—"the earth a cradle made of water / being-in-soul the only knowledge." And this purports to be a poem about rain falling!
Each poem is its own metaphysical search. In "Vision," the sight of half a clam shell described as "an almost human ear" leads to "Every fragment contains its own wholeness..." The poet notes that "Death has been here" and queries: "Can I forgive this?"
"Winter" describes a scene of frozen water and frozen, ice-trimmed trees—the white ghosts of the summer harbor—Platonic forms. The snow blowing on his face reminds the poet of his "snowangeling child incarnation" while the brown marsh grass is seen as not deceased but as undergoing the requisite syncope before resurrection. "Creations recreating / one another, being recreated, patient / place where I see as my soul, world rebuilding me." This is reminiscent of Wordsworth's "The Leech Gatherer" in its sense of imagination hovering over inchoate forms and creating the world anew.
In "Reflection," the poet begins with his own indignation at an oil spill in his harbor—we do feel this harbor is his by virtue of his constant attendance on it, winter and summer. But soon he is mesmerized by the colors of the spilled fuel—"My soul compels me / to take in this translucent painting before me, //circles of beige and grey mixed with light / metallic blue crescents, slivers of clear water //curling through the colors, a tiny child's fingers / first grasping the thumb of the unfathomable // giant from whom he'd fought toward that awful light." So the Creator is held by the thumb in this evocation of the innocent eye and its reading of the book of nature.
There is a pleasant variety of printed shapes to these poems. Sometimes they double up their stanzas, the lines are broken in half or indented, couplets emerge, or italics break through. The language is consistently in a high style but without pomposity or pretension. The first line in the first poem is "Soul never presents in its own shape." There are no end rhymes but a mellifluous music throughout. The poem that most epitomizes the book is "Myth," which I quote in full.
MYTHwalking until he becomes the verb itself, until this place becomes the book, untilthe book silences striving and fear, becomes a home, becomesa body, for moments, walking, timeless, a walking [End Page 22] body creating
a home, a homecreating the mind that creates the home it walks through, creating a world that createsthe creator, walking until the jagged harbor is a circle, walking untilhe is also the self he is not, until he creates the creator who walks with himbeside the quiet water, the harbor, only the harbor
After what seem like platinum photographic prints of the grey, black, and white harbor, we discover in "Fog" a colorful painting—"muted // blues antiphoning with an unbrushable / orange framed in tangerine haze." Color also helps the delicate, minimalist imagism of "Matins" to cohere, when "the lone duck slices the water, / it literally is a single leaf / of paper tearing: the frost whitening / the still green grass is actually the mask // I wear into the plastic world, the fog / my destiny. The landscape permits this, //or the four-note birdsong in the darkness / up ahead could not become my mantra, / nor the obsidian water my still / fluid...