“All creation must converse with culmination,” Michael Patrick Collins writes in his collection Psalmandala, and one could argue this is the conceit the collection attempts to interrogate. Among the narratives of mythology and myth-making, the ruminations on loss and change, the dreamscapes and conflict with the subconscious, the thread that runs through this collection is the conflict of confrontation with creation: the who is created reflecting on the nature of creation with the creator.
The collection begins with a stand-alone poem, “Nightmare with Reader,” that announces itself as an introduction as well as a statement of intent: “The devil painted a picture / of a monster /eating a child. ‘ The monster looked just like you.” It ends with “It looks just like a mirror,” which begs the question: who is the devil? Who is the monster? Who is reflected in this mirror? Is it the reader? And thus begins an unsettling descent into Collins’ mythic landscape of loss, and metamorphoses, a potentially postmodern Divine Comedy.
Collins is at his best in this collection when he takes the seemingly innocuous events of modern life and cross-pollinates with a little classic and contemporary mythology: In “Metamorphosis,” the ’bots at Facebook declare the narrator “not an actual person,” sending him into a butt-hurt quest for revenge including Ovid and Lincoln Logs, resulting in a tender moment of childlike transformation and wonder; “My Soul Delivers a Euology for My Grandfather” gives us “ancient stories” of giants and kings, Banshees speaking Klingon as the World Series takes place in Gondor – okay, that’s not exactly how he constructs it, to be fair – but the whimsy, the literary, the high and low art all come together in a elegant rendering of the timely and timeless.
Although there is some light in this darkness, there is still a broad disconnect that leaves the reader unsettled: many of the poems, entitled with variations of “soul” or “my soul”, personify a construct and give it a voice, usually presented in quotation marks around the entirety of the poem. Has this soul an agency of its own? Is Collins drawing our attention to this disconnect as one who is not the author, but also pointing out he is not the speaker, either, while simultaneously quoting the speaker, a soul, that may reside inside him? It’s wonderfully perplexing and does not provide an easy answer. In “To a Thief,” ‘Michael’ is placed within the poem by name as the poem’s speaker addresses the thief (“And don’t think I don’t know a poem can’t recover what’s been stolen”), and he philosophically ends with a memory of happiness that can’t ever be stolen – much like memories, these poems stay with you, unsettling you with their truths.