Barnwood Press, 2008, $8.00 - www.bsu.edu/classes/koontz/barnwood/
Trying to reconcile the contradictions in this pamphlet revealed just how much the poems are jostling with each other, and attempting to take the collection off in different directions. It’s not that they squabble or fight (they are too well-mannered for that) but promising themes are abandoned just when they start to develop.
Take the first poem (‘Out of my own pocket’) and its specific setting: a woman, by a leaded window, half-watching the “stalled Aegean ships”, her book stirred by the breeze, and ending “a woman/ on her way, on her way home.” It sets up expectations—that the reader will travel with her, sharing the journey to find wherever home might be. I was looking forward to this, so perhaps it’s my fault for imposing myself on the poet. The second poem (‘That time’) delicately sketches two separate episodes through remembered details, but after that the specifics fall away, and the poems become increasingly impressionistic and, to me, less satisfying.
Perhaps the human body is the overarching theme. With a shift in register Collins takes the human body, first as a subject but also as metaphor for the damaged Earth. It’s a big subject, so that’s an argument in favour of her double-spacing— though this appears too often in the collection to maintain its impact. I’m unsettled, too, by the use of what my Mac calls Strike Thru (it looks like this) in a couple of poems: how would you read that aloud? Is it mimicking a first draft? And more simply—why?
Then another shift with ‘The bombs’, written in the voice of the USA’s smart bombs:
We hit the train we are sorry it was a mistake.
We hit those refugees sorry another mistake.
For me this is the best poem in the collection: the lack of punctuation within each line catches the whining note of abject apology, and has a directness that makes it stand out. It made me want more poems like this—sharp, original, energetic, political. This is Collins’ fifth collection; I wonder whether she is experimenting with new journeys…
D A Prince