In the Spotlight: Michael Collins, Author of How to Sing When People Cut Off Your Head and Leave it Floating in the Water

One of my favorite things in the entire world is stumbling across poetry that is both new to me and fresh in the sense that I don’t feel like I’ve already read nearly the exact arrangements of words by half a dozen other poets.

One of my other favorite things is getting to have conversations with inspiring people whose work excites me. Add in a side bonus of hell of a nice guy, and I’m giddy.

It was a really good day when I stumbled upon Michael Collins and his poems. I almost cried. Not because it was sad. Because it was good. It wasn’t ordinary good; it was the rare sort of good that runs through your neural pathways, creating that ecstatic, oh-my-god-you-have-to-read-this feeling that makes the hair stand up on your arms.

HowtoSing

First of all, congratulations on the publication of your first chapbook, How to Sing When People Cut Off Your Head and Leave it Floating in the Water. Tell us about the title. What does it mean to you?

The title comes from a version of the Orpheus story.  He was killed by decapitation, but his musical powers were such that his head continued singing even after being disconnected from his body. For the full story, see Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  Google will work too, but Ovid tells it much better.

What would you like people to know about this book?

This book has been about five years in the making, not that I knew I was making it that whole time.  I wrote some of the poems for my phd applications five or six years ago.  Thankfully, whoever read those applications had terrible taste in poetry, and I didn’t get in anywhere.  About a day later I realized that I already had a teaching job I loved, didn’t need to leave it, and could now just read all of the books I actually wanted to read.  I spent the next few years reading Jungian psychology, esoteric and comparative religion, thinking about how these things related to poetics and pedagogy — and writing the rest of these poems in conversation with these writers.  The poems in the collection are one chapbook-length representation of my soul-journey over this time.

When and where do you write? Do you have a routine?

On the train, coffee shops, bars, sitting on the floor at home — pretty much anywhere that has white noise or other things going on.  I don’t know that I have a routine.  I teach and tutor a lot, so I tend to grab an hour here, half hour there, in whatever way presents itself.  So I guess the routine would be making the most of limited time, which is really a blessing because I really enjoy interacting with the vast majority of students I work with and they are most of my day.  Poetry in an interactive void, on the other hand, is a great way to lose your mind.  Sartre was wrong; hell really isn’t other people, at least not the ones I work with.

Imagine that you’re on a street corner in NYC, and you have to busk, reciting one of your poems all day long. Which one would you choose?

“Ravensong.” It’s a city poem, and I don’t have that many.  Or I’d read one of Rilke’s sequences or Neruda’s long poems and say it was mine.  Not to plagiarize, just so the time would be spent memorizing something I could learn from.

How long have you been writing poetry? What inspired you to start?

Apparently since I was in elementary school.  I don’t remember anything inspiring me to do it.  I guess we had to memorize and write some poems in school, so maybe that was it back then.  Later on, the inspiration came from teachers and reading, friends who also write, and, of course, that annoying part of me who compels me to keep doing it.

I know it’s cliche, but I think that it’s important, so I’m going to ask anyway. Who are your favorite poets?

I think it’s a totally legitimate question, but, you know, there are so many that I hesitate to answer because I know I will leave one out and regret it.  Just to kind of answer the question without answering it at all, though, my favorite writer is Marquez.  Second is James Hillman.  Tied for second is Henry Corbin’s work on the Sufis, more of which needs to be translated so I can buy it and read it…guys?  Third is a thousand poets.  Fourth is Brian Cook on mgoblog.com.  Fifth, is all of the other stuff I mentioned before. 

If you had asked me my favorite poet most people hadn’t heard of but should have:  Cesare Pavese.  I’ll let you go back to doing the questions now.  Sorry.

Do you have any advice to share with aspiring writers? Especially those who are on the cusp of going for it, but are being held back by fear?

Go for it. Just only go for things that actually matter – on the page and in the world.  A good indication that you are doing this is that you piss off people with clown values and goals.  Unfortunately, these reactions may also manifest if you are just being a jackass.  So, you know, you have to be a little self-aware to be a poet.  Good news:  It’s a prerequisite! 

Obviously, in my opinion, you also need a sense of humor.  Therefore, in the process of becoming a writer (which is a lifelong process, no matter how much success you experience – I’m assuming here because my experience of worldly success is rather limited), make fun of the following things: people who think the capitalist materialist racist classist heterosexist [insert group of people who misunderstand everything here] world is the “real” world, people who think there is one kind of poem, people who think there is one way to write a poem or read one. 

If you want to contact me on less public channels, I can provide a much more detailed list of things to laugh at: I’m the Michael Collins on Facebook whose avatar is a cat dressed as a taco. 

It’s a thing.

One of the things I love about your poems is the incredible variety. Your style and subject matter seem to be all over the map, which thrills me. I never felt like I was reading two different versions of the same recycled poem. What inspires you? Are there certain conditions or events that get your creative juices flowing?

That’s about the nicest compliment you could have given me because that is exactly what I was trying to do.  Part of the variety is that there are poems from a range of years, styles, experiences, etc. included in this collection.  To try to actually answer your question this time, I think a lot of the poems start in experience or memory, so I guess that is a form of inspiration.  However, they tend to take on a life of their own in the revision process with form and content working back and forth, opening new opportunities and discoveries for one another.  In that regard, I would say the poems are their own inspiration and I am just trying to stay out of their way as they gradually disclose themselves.  I hope that doesn’t make too much sense.

Most importantly, where can we order a copy of your book?

For those who live in the city, I’m going to be doing an epically fun reading with the poet Mary Lou Buschi, whose new chapbook is also being released this month.  That will take place at Viktor & Spoils, a bar on the first floor of Hotel on Rivington, 105 Rivington Ave., in SoHo.  Anyone who is interested, should feel free to join us at 7 pm on Saturday, April 26.  A reception will follow at Brian Morris Gallery, a fast rising player in the NYC art scene.  So, yeah, the book will obviously be on sale there.

It can also be purchased on Amazon.com here:

http://www.amazon.com/Sing-People-Leave-Floating-Water/dp/1615842853/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1397173382&sr=8-1&keywords=michael+collins+how+to+sing

MichaelCollins

Michael Collins’ poems have appeared or will soon appear in numerous publications, including BlazeVOX, Dressing Room Poetry Journal, Red Savina Review, Blood Lotus Journal, Mobius, Grist, Kenning Journal, Pank, Smartish Pace and SOFTBLOW.  His first chapbook, How to Sing when People Cut off your Head and Leave it Floating in the Water, won the Exact Change Press Chapbook Contest in 2014.  A second collection, Psalmanadala, will be released in January, 2015.

You can check out some of Michael’s published online works at the following links:

http://www.dressingroompoetryjournal.com/metamorphosis-by-michael-collins.html
http://redpainthill.com/michael-collins.php
http://iceflow.com/riverbabble/issue24/POETRY-COLLINS-24.HTML
http://www.softblow.org/michaelcollins.html
http://www.blazevox.org/BX%20Covers/BXspring13/Michael%20Collins%20-%20Spring%2013.pdf

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One comment

  1. “Poetry in an interactive void, on the other hand, is a great way to lose your mind.” Truer words never written. I loved every word of this interview! And can’t wait to read the book.

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