Last week award-winning poet Arda Collins spoke about and read from her work as part of the University of Chicago Creative Writing Program’s Poem Present series. She came with her critically acclaimed collection “It Is Daylight,” a printout of wonderfully lyrical creative essays, and a few photocopies of her favorite Elizabeth Bishop and Gertrude Stein poems to speak to a small audience about what poetry means to her. Commenting on Stein and her inimitable style, she remarked, “She was so private in her life. It’s hard to find the same impression I got when I first read her, but I was always struck by the way she told the reader very deeply private things.” Such a description might as well apply to Collins’s own intensely personal poems.
Collins’s works have appeared in the New Yorker and the American Poetry Review, and she is the editor-at-large of GutCult, a poetry review that seeks to create miracles. This simple but ambitious aim is clarified by a quote from Hannah Arendt that defines miracles as “interruptions of some natural series of events, of some automatic process, in whose context they constitute the wholly unexpected.” This is rather fitting, since Collins’s poems may well be described as aspiring for the ethereal in an age of cynicism and uncertainty. Her poems discuss the quotidian domestic lives, meetings that almost occur but do not, but the voices in her work approach a state of ecstasy and mortal terror as they deal with the vagaries of the modern world. They are seeking out all kinds of meaning in their lives, but hesitant to declare that they have found it. This state of uncertainty is something we should avoid if we are to experience miracles. Responding to one audience member, Collins noted, “As a writer, I enjoy that feeling when I know that a poem has arrived at a certain destination.”