Collier, Michael 1953–

views updated

COLLIER, Michael 1953–


Born May 25, 1953, in Phoenix, AZ; son of Robert M., Jr. (in sales) and Lucille (a homemaker) Collier; married Katherine A. Branch (a librarian), May 2, 1981; children: Robert, David. Education: Connecticut College, B.A., 1976; University of Arizona, M.F.A., 1979. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Roman Catholic.


Home—Catonsville, MD. Office—Creative Writing, 3119F Susquehanna Hall, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742. E-mail[email protected].


Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC, director of poetry programs, 1983-84; University of Maryland, College Park, MD, associate professor and director of creative writing, 1984—; Poet Laureate of Maryland, 2001-04. Johns Hopkins University, visiting lecturer, 1985-89, director of Summer Writers' Conference, 1987; Yale University, visiting lecturer, 1990, associate fellow of Timothy Dwight College, 1991-96; Warren Wilson College, faculty, beginning 1991; Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, staff associate, 1992, director, 1995—. Greater Homewood Community Corp., member of board of directors, 1984-85, vice president, 1986-87, president, 1987-88; Leila Day Nursery, Inc., member of board of directors, 1991-92.


National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, 1984, 1994; Alice Day Di Castagnola Award, Poetry Society of America, 1988; Pushcart Prize, 1990; Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, 1995; fellow, Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center; Thomas J. Watson fellowship; Discovery/The Nation Award; National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.



The Clasp and Other Poems, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1986.

The Folded Heart, Wesleyan University Press (Middle-town, CT), 1989.

The Neighbor, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1995.

The Ledge, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.

Dark Wild Realm, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2006.

Contributor of poems to periodicals.


The Wesleyan Tradition: Four Decades of American Poetry, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1993.

(With Stanley Plumly) The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1999.

The New American Poets: A Bread Loaf Anthology, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 2000.

(With Charles Baxter and Edward Hirsch) A William Maxwell Portrait: Memories and Appreciations, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2004.


(Translator, with Georgia Machemer) Euripedes, Medea, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to Seven Washington Poets Reading Their Poems in the Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress, 1998. Contributor of reviews to periodicals, including the New Yorker, Atlantic, New Republic, Nation, and Partisan Review.


In addition to publishing collections of his own verse, award-winning poet Michael Collier has edited a number of anthologies. Collier brings together the work of more than eighty poets in The Wesleyan Tradition: Four Decades of American Poetry. The "quality" of the 1995 anthology is "as high as the range is broad," commended a Publishers Weekly critic, who believed that The Wesleyan Tradition is unquestionably a "good anthology." Collier then worked with Stanley Plumly to edit The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry. Collier, who became associated with the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in 1992 and later was named its director, is one of the anthology's eighty-two contributors. "the editors were drawn to quiet works and chose to create a chamber music-like anthology," according to Booklist contributor Donna Seaman, who praised the volume's "high-caliber work." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly also indicated that The New Bread Loaf Anthology contains many prominent authors who "deliver some virtuoso performances." However, the critic concluded that "the book reflects less of a 'commitment to the future of the nation's poetry,' as the editors profess, than a veneration for its glorious past." Graham Christian, writing in Library Journal, judged the anthology to be "perhaps the best single volume of contemporary poetry now available—a superb introduction."

The first collection of Collier's own poetry, The Clasp and Other Poems, appeared in 1986, and The Folded Heart was released three years later. Objects, and the relationship between an object and its owner, are portrayed in The Neighbor, Collier's third book of poetry. As Collier once told CA, objects are important: "I suppose … that I believe almost literally in [William Carlos] Williams' notion of 'no ideas but in things.' I'm a consumer. I like things. I'm fascinated by the mechanical world. Although the virtual world doesn't yet have its hold on me, it contains all the necessary ingredients. But gears and levers and pulleys, I can't get enough of."

In The Neighbor Collier's poems "maintain their balance by honing in on things, usually things small or light enough to be held in one hand," commented James Longenbach in the Yale Review. "Like Hardy, who could write a poem about anything, Collier can focus on almost any object—the most unassuming, improbable object—and spin a story out of it, unfold its significance in ways we would never have predicted." Noting the "understated darkness" of these poems, Longenbach added: "Collier's poems unearth a sinister and yet oddly comic cast of misfits, ogres, and giants," which Bruce Murphy also remarked about in his review for Poetry. Collier's poems "strive unapologetically for truth," observed Murphy, "yet there is also something surreal and garish about these snapshots….The poems aren't weird, but the world they describe is." "Collier's descriptions seem edgeless and perfect, if not always passionate," observed Murphy, asserting that this is not always a strength. He contended that sometimes "the very sureness of the poet's grip on language, his fluency and ability to get it to show what he wants it [to] show, betrays the poem." Murphy concluded that we may "miss the handholds for the imagination offered when a poem allows words to open to their own complex associations instead of cauterizing them." Writing in the London Review of Books, John Redmond praised Collier's use of description in The Neighbor, stating that "simple, accurate description, with metaphorical resonance, is used to great effect….In poem after poem, he selects just the right details to describe these men and what they do. Within three lines, for instance, we can see the tree-cutter in 'Brueghel.'" Judging the work to be a "fine collection," Redmond remarked that reading through The Neighbor, "one feels that one is learning something from each poem, to the point of feeling sorry when they end."

Youth, lies, siblings, and father-son relations are among the subjects in Collier's fourth volume of poetry, The Ledge. On one hand, a Publishers Weekly writer reported that Collier's "ruminations … have their descriptive charms, but generally lack the dramatic urgency necessary to sustain the book as a whole." In the Bloomsbury Review, however, Jeff Biggers judged the collection to be "compelling and exquisite" and compared Collier's poems favorably to those of Randall Jarrell. "Collier renders the intimacy and intensity of our lives into delicate, smooth, and at times unnerving lines of timelessness that blend myth and biblical touches with everyday experiences."

A year after publishing The Ledge, Collier was given the honor of being named the Poet Laureate of his state of Maryland. He served in this post from 2001 to 2004; then, in 2006, he published his fifth collection of verse, Dark Wild Realm. Janet St. John, writing for Booklist, declared the work "a compact delight, filled with brief and poignant insights into the human condition," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer described it as an "ominously mythic vision of reality reminiscent of the work of Ted Hughes."

About his use of language, Collier once told CA: "The music I'm most attuned to … is the one inherent in colloquial speech. I think one of the poet's jobs is to prove that the resources of colloquial speech are adequate to the demands of poetry. Another way of saying this is that we are by necessity training others—readers of poems, I presume—how to hear poetry in the bits and pieces of language everyone already uses, a language that Marianne Moore unabashedly characterized as 'plain American which cats and dogs can read!'"



Bloomsbury Review, May-June, 2000, Jeff Biggers, review of The Ledge.

Book, January, 2001, Stephen Whited, review of The New American Poetry: A Bread Loaf Anthology, p. 81.

Booklist, November 15, 1993, Donna Seaman, review of The Wesleyan Tradition: Four Decades of American Poetry, p. 598; August 19, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, p. 2015; March 15, 2000, Ray Olson, review of The Ledge, pp. 1313, 1316; March 15, 2006, Janet St. John, review of Dark Wild Realm, p. 17.

Kenyon Review, summer-fall, 2001, Carol Muske-Dukes, review of The New American Poets: A Bread Loaf Anthology, p. 232.

Library Journal, November 15, 1993, Fred Muratori, review of The Wesleyan Tradition, p. 82; September 15, 1999, Graham Christian, review of The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry; November 1, 2004, Ben Bruton, review of A William Maxwell Portrait: Memories and Appreciations, p. 86

London Review of Books, July 6, 1995, John Redmond, "Stirring Your Tea Is Only a Normal Activity If You Stop Doing It Relatively Quickly."

New York Times Book Review, April 20, 2000, Brian Henry, review of The Ledge, p. 21.

Poetry, June, 1996, Bruce Murphy, review of The Neighbor, p. 160.

Publishers Weekly, November 8, 1993, review of The Wesleyan Tradition, p. 59; July 26, 1999, review of The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, p. 84; April 24, 2000, review of The Ledge, p. 82, and "Anthology Wars," p. 83; June 14, 2004, review of A William Maxwell Portrait, p. 52; March 13, 2006, review of Dark Wild Realm, p. 42.

Yale Review, October, 1995, James Longenbach, "Poetry in Review," pp. 144-147.


Bread Loaf Writers' Conference Web site, (August 25, 2006), brief profile of Michael Collier.*

About this article

Collier, Michael 1953–

Updated About content Print Article