. . .
Summer. Let's see what we can steal from our sleep.
. . .
Daylight, white fugue, my face is shadow. My name, my name.
. . .
It Is Daylight, selected by Louise Gluck for the 2008 Yale Younger Poets prize, and published in 2009, is filled with poems of strange, lucid elasticity. Not quite confessional, not quite associative in its sensibilities, Arda Collins' first book smacks of both. Her colloquial monologues are filled with the impressive meanderings of an apparent housewife, or single woman, or contemporary witch. Which is to say, a woman who does the cooking for herself, watches TV, looks at the weather in the yard, drives nowhere and comes home before dark, and probably has to take a fistful of Xanax to ward off her serious depressions. This is the character I imagine.
Her straightforward tone is deceptive in that it almost feels as though you're going to read some boring confessional prose, but you're surprised by her adept maneuvering. Collins' speaker attaches herself to the domestic, mundane details of suburban life, and skillfully delivers the reader to moments of contemporary dryness, humor, even irony.
I was making a roast.
The smell wafted from the kitchen into the living room,
through the yellow curtains and into the sunlight.
Bread warmed in the oven,
and in my oven mitt, I managed to forget
that I'd ever punched someone in the face.
It seemed so long ago, I might not even have done it.
You can see in these lines a directness true of someone like Anne Sexton, without the imagistic flare. But in the confessional tone and in the volatile intentions of Collins' speaker there is something built over the feminism of the 60's. It almost feels as if you're reading the diary of a 1950's housewife, filled with, not quite restraint, exactly, but a politeness that neatly dresses some other psychological fervor.
There is a sisterhood too, to something like Frank Bidart's earlier poem "Confessional" in which his mother hangs his cat in Collins' longer poem written in sections, "Dawn". The title reminds me of William Carlos Williams' assertion that murder doesn't happen at midnight, that this is the classical error. Collins' poem surprises us with how it proposes violence and reason at the same time, with its psychopathic, calm invitation:
It's wrong to kill.
he explained to the person,
he was holding the person's
face and throat.
Nothing was supposed to happen,
not death and not pain. No one
should be doing anything right now,
that was what he was demonstrating
to the person, who didn't know:
this was an explanation.
One gets the feeling that Collins' speaker is something from a Flannery O'Connor story, a philosophical criminal, but really they are like any of us, filled with an attention to beauty, that somehow feels so far:
Gentle, painful sound,
it's coming from his face.
He doesn't want to talk,
hates the air; it moves toward the same things,
beautiful night again, best missed
from afar. He thinks his personhood
in the dark in a room is the same as the dark
inside a small bag or a drawer.
Essentially, there is a deep distrust between Collins' speakers and the civility of the cultural business of waking up, having a home and family, cooking dinners, watching the light die nightly, only to start over and do it again, again, again. These are somnambulist monologues in which Collins attunes to the ultimate order of the universe, which burns us alive:
A night fire,
and this one really burns the house down.
At dawn it's still smoking
and I love it so much,
like the world has happened the thing
not like it loves me, but like,
"I know, I know,"
it says, "calamity,"
like, "why not for you, too?"
and I feel so included and ordinary
like I know what real order is
and like it exchanges a look with me
together as the sky gets lighter.
. . .
Friends and strangers, steal it if you can.
. . .
If you can steal the daylight from the daylight, you will know what fire means.
. . .
The dog, the tree.
The darkness is me. Pulled from me.
My shadow getting up from my body
like a man climbing out of his grave.
. . .