Michael Collins ’81 has written a new book of poems, The Traveling Queen (Sheep Meadow Press). He sent us the following comments on his collection:
“This book is dedicated to Annie Dillard, who began teaching at Wesleyan University while I was there and who encouraged me to pursue a career as a writer so many times that she finally overcame my misgivings.
“In general, the writing of the book was informed by my sense that poems are promises. ‘So long as men can breathe or eyes can see/ so long lives this [poem],’ Shakespeare promises in one sonnet, ‘and this gives life to thee.’ Or, as Etheridge Knight writes in one poem, a lyric can be a chanted as ‘a spell to drive the demons away.’
“In the language of the dollar, poems aspire to be ‘legal tender for all debts [that is to say, all promises], public or private’: legal tender for debts we incur in promising to be good as our word, to love ‘till death do us part’ (for the marriage vow is itself a little poem), to sprout up under the reader’s boot soles, like Walt Whitman, or to look long into the Medusa face of reality, so that the reader will not turn to stone. (Prayers and psalms are these sorts of poems).
“The fact that poems are promises gives the poet (at least at my level) something in common with the Ponzi schemer: For, like a Ponzi scheme, a poem is a lie whose worth is based entirely on what people invest in it. But, unlike a Ponzi scheme, a poem is a lie that becomes truer the more people invest in it, the more they allow it to structure their imaginations: Who would think of ‘Homer,’ who may or may not have existed—may or may not have been made out of ‘a mouthful of air,’ as Yeats said one of his poems was—if the Illiad had not made the fires of war and the wills of gods and nations grow out of Helen’s red hair?
“As this special sort of Ponzi schemer’s product, the poem always has the potential to rise in value to the point of becoming priceless—and the potential to become worthless, like the post-World War I German money people are said to have had to cart in wheelbarrows to make simple purchases.”
From The Traveling Queen:
Before they close the casket
the preacher tries to open heaven with his voice,
and whisper the strongman in.
In her review of the collection in the New York Journal of Books, Laverne Frith writes:
“The Traveling Queen is a wildly rich and passionately far-reaching collection of poems about which it is almost impossible to make generalizations. One thing is clear—Michael Collins is a poet of obsessions. He is obsessed with history, obsessed with mythic women, obsessed with God. But most of all, Mr. Collins is obsessed with death.”
Born in Jamaica, Collins holds a PhD from Columbia University and teaches English at Texas A&M. He is the author of Understanding Etheridge Knight (University of South Carolina Press, 2013) and has authored literary criticism, creative nonfiction, journalism and fiction in various publications such as PMIA, Callaloo, and Singapore’s The Straits Times.