Overview

A cycle of pathbreaking poems about the history of a family set against the backdrop of the last century.


An Individual History ...

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An Individual History

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Overview

A cycle of pathbreaking poems about the history of a family set against the backdrop of the last century.


An Individual History describes the fears, anger, and guilt—personal, familial, societal, political, and historical—that comprise a life. The figure of the speaker’s maternal grandmother who was institutionalized for five decades serves as an overriding metaphor for this haunting, bold new work by an essential American poet.



from “An Individual History



This was before the time of lithium and Zoloft

before mood stabilizers and anxiolytics

and almost all the psychotropic drugs, but not before

    thorazine,

which the suicide O’Laughlin called “handcuffs for the

   mind.”

It was before, during, and after the time of atomic

   fallout,

Auschwitz, the Nakba, DDT, and you could take water

    cures,

find solace in quarantines, participate in shunnings,

or stand at Lourdes among the canes and crutches.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Collier weaves himself in and out of his poems like a boxer and can go from caressing to slapping a reader with almost no warning…But [he] can also write lovely lyrics, moving family reminiscences and even funny poems about dogs.
—Troy Jollimore
Publishers Weekly
A speaker recalls a childhood of Catholic Mass being administered to a church organist with a grotesque mouth (“missing molars,/ silver fillings, and the yellowish, veined,/ smoker’s tongue”) and visits from an eccentric grandmother, whose grinning mink stole rode her shoulder like an unsettling second self. A man contemplating his infertility relates some memorably phrased advice from a neighbor regarding his predicament: “Boxers,/ that’ll keep ’em loose and cool.” Collier’s sixth collection engages with childhood, fatherhood, and family life, in the living present and memorial past, a history explored with brilliantly precise detail and originality of perspective. Yet many poems amplify and extend the traditional familial ground this book inhabits—it’s hard at times not to recall Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, especially in Collier’s title poem, which touches on what Lowell termed the “tranquilized Fifties” of madness, mental institutions, and communist panic—suggesting the complexities and entanglements of autobiographical writing. Nature often serves as analogue for familial relationships. “Necrophoresis” describes bees’ practice of carrying bee corpses from a hive, and “To a Horseshoe Crab” portrays some dire mating habits. The longest poem, “History,” is the volume’s unequivocal high point—a dream-suffused self-interrogation of Collier’s own youthful travels across Siberia, where he meets and uncomfortably befriends a Nazi sympathizer. (July)
Library Journal
Nothing is too large or too small for Collier's focused attention in this gathering of lyric poems, his sixth (after 2006's Dark Wild Realm). Rooting his work in close observation of natural and human-made objects as well as in vivid recollections, the poet considers subjects as disparate as horseshoe crabs, bees, his seventh-grade teacher, a sewing machine, bikinis, and Homer's Iliad with equal curiosity and wonder. Several poems address the travails and disappointments of old age as manifested in geriatric parents and their contemporaries, who have "no life to be beginning and nothing to complete/ that doesn't already wear the aura of completion." Collier's sure imagistic touch ("palm trees, like massive tube worms, waving in the sky") and searching, candid tone add urgency to a complex of uncertain emotions that are not always amenable to clear interpretation. VERDICT Though the wide-ranging content of these highly personal poems may seem catch-as-catch-can, it's clear that for the poet they are hard-won fragments in the effort to assemble a coherent sense of selfhood, a quest many readers will recognize.—Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393239218
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/25/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 80
  • File size: 489 KB

Meet the Author

Michael Collier's The Ledge was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He teaches at the University of Maryland and is the director of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.
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