Arda Collins

Arda Collins

Arda Collins’s first book, It Is Daylight, won the 2008 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition, chosen by Louise Glück, calling it “savage, desolate, brutally ironic, … a book of astonishing originality and intensity.” In an essay that appeared in The Missouri Review discussing collections “whose weirdness provides insight into the otherness of being,” Jason Koo writes, “More than any other poet I know, Collins sits in the uncanny, poem after poem documenting the experience of feeling foreign to oneself.” As Collins herself has said, on reading poems, “you’re able to enter a space that would otherwise be invisible to you.” Anguished, witty, blurting with complete freedom, the persona created in It is Daylight seeks both to hide and to see herself. She ushers us inside a devastating interiority—existential, absurd, exhilarating, and sometimes downright funny.

Arda Collins grew up on Long Island writing stories. She knew she wanted to be a writer, but instead of choosing a genre, she thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to write with no plot and no characters, but just say things?” And in her essay, “Poetry as a Process of Inquiry,” Collins writes that “poetry is the emotion of the act of thinking.” In It Is Daylight, anything can happen language-wise, but ‘story’ consists of the seemingly faceless speaker’s many-faceted wranglings—with time, what ifs, with light or the lack of it, with God who doesn’t seem to exist but doesn’t not exist, and ultimately with what Glück terms the “inescapability of self.” And, as she reminds us, “Collins sounds always like a particular person, but she is, here, tracking a culture” in this oddball and moving collection.

Collins was awarded the May Sarton Prize from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The American Poetry Review, and A Public Space, among other venues. After studying with Charles Simic at the University of New Hampshire, she went on to earn an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Glenn Schaeffer Fellow, and a PhD in Poetry from the University of Denver. Collins has served as visiting professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and New York University. She’s here at Smith as the Conkling Visiting Poet for Fall 2015 and Fall 2016.

Poetry Center Reading:

Fall 2015

The News

At last, terror has arrived.
Next door, the house has gone up in flames.
A woman runs from the burning wreck, her face smeared
with blood and ashes. She screams that her children are kidnapped.
It’s truly exciting, and what more would anyone ask?
For a rare and beautiful egg to present itself in the grass?
For sex with the liquor store owner to progress into something meaningful
You don’t know what I’ve done in front of the mirror.
I’ve pulled my shorts up high like a thong. I’ve walked back and forth
doing little kicks and making faces. I’ve stopped, I’ve stared.
I try to get my mind around the sight of myself. I make a face.
Of great seriousness. I imagine that I’ve just received
a large and upsetting piece of news. Then I look into my eyes.
Can I guess what I am thinking? Can I tell you what it is?

From IT IS DAYLIGHT (Yale University Press, 2009)

Not For Chopin

Don’t put off your shower any more
listening to Chopin.
Take the Preludes personally;
he’s telling you that he can describe a progression
that you yourself have been unable to see,
shapely, broad light at one-thirty,
evening traveling up a road,
an overcast day as gentle bones.
Don’t remember the music;
remember it as something obvious
that you are compelled, doomed, to obscure
and complicate. You erase it twice.
The first time
as you listened, unable
to have it,
the second time
as you were unable
to remember it.
Angry with Chopin,
what does he know?
The components of your dinner are waiting for you downstairs.
The golden evening takes flat, slow turns outside.
Become gray.
Listen to him describe what you would be like
if you were blind, sitting in a chair, at a wake, the days short, that there might
be nothing
else, night,
content, unable, unwishing, to recall desire, or sight.

From IT IS DAYLIGHT (Yale University Press, 2009)

The Sky As With Bells, As With Nothing In It

This bright day all together we eat a Sunday dinner.
We watch the sun in the wind through a mirror
that reflects the leaves blowing hard behind glass doors.
Yellow-green, turning violently and violently, and quiet.
The gilded mirror opens up to trees like a high gate
on a wall that leads nowhere, as to a room that lies behind—
a display for window curtains in a department store—
a window dressed up in its Sunday best, an organdy veil
under wool drapes, silky tie-backs with tassels, wall to wall carpet.
A light comes through the curtains as though the last afternoon rays
were coming through the curtains. The light that shines
from a small fixed bulb fixed to white sheet rock.

Come sunshine, finish powdering your nose.
The wind is colder, doors shrink in their frames and close louder.

From IT IS DAYLIGHT (Yale University Press, 2009)