PSALMANDALA by Michael Patrick Collins


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Combining cosmic visions with earthy anecdotes, this hallucinogenic collection of poems tells of a moody man finding his place in the universe.

Much of Collins’ book is grounded in the physical world, where the first-person narrator smokes cigarettes, gets caught in the rain and struggles with love. But many of the poems are dreamy, combining nightmarish images with pop-culture references and political rants. Collins peppers epic phrases with complex and even made-up words: “America, America, / you soulavoric, luxaphobic pyrophile, / I will sing my dream until I am finished.” Some pieces read like stage monologues, direct and relatable, while others are broken up and surreal, alienating the reader with Collins’ wild expressions. His most enjoyable poems are also the easiest to follow, as with “To a Thief,” a haunting elegy to a late grandfather: “we / laughed like his body would never be ashes. This is just to say we / are still laughing in that remembrance, in that Cadillac I’ll never ride / in again, in that memory you will never take away.” In work thick with motifs—e.g., mysterious children, vivid dreams and the presence of supernatural beings—Collins uses such diverse references as “Waltzing Matilda” and Google searches in the same poem. He sometimes directly addresses the reader or other characters, as in the poem “Don’t get mad at me, Jesus.” The most interesting and frustrating aspect of Collins’ style is his use of fictional compounds, including “othertongues,” “enerdreadful” and “herenow’s allpulse,” among scores of others. The writing is free and inventive, building its own vocabulary, but the language is often so confusing and abstract that it struggles to make sense. Collins uses this lexicon to describe his relationship with big ideas and higher powers, as if more ineffable concepts require ever stranger words. His ponderous narrators struggle with fiery emotions, some flirting with violence. For readers of the New York School of poets, the avant-garde tone will likely sound familiar, even nostalgic.

An ambitious, blustery debut that establishes a distinct and often arcane style.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1942004066
Page count: 84pp
Publisher: ELJ Publications
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2015


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