Edition 29: Poetry Book Review: Corona Obscura by Michael R Collings
Reviewed by Lee Murray
I was in high school when I discovered sonnets and Donne. I saw Donne as someone who embraced form but was entirely irreverent in his approach. Even now, I imagine him as the hip bad boy rapper of his day, the 16th century version of Snoop Dogg.
Then I discovered this collection of speculative horror sonnets called Corona Obscura written by World Horror Convention Grand Master Michael R. Collings. Like Donne and Snoop Dogg, I had a feeling Colling’s collection was going to be bad-ass and I was right, because Collings approaches his sonnets with the same feigned casualness.
Of course, Collings is an accomplished poet who knows all about meter and foot and beat. He knows how to fabricate beautiful images, to wrap them delicately in darkness and slot them into the form. In spite of this, Collings delivers a measure of irreverence in his performance. There is an element of insouciant control: an oxymoron, and yet Collings achieves it.
Simply put, these sonnets left me breathless. There is not a dud amongst them. Such wonderful ‘little songs’ that I wonder if Collings brushes his teeth in cadence. Perhaps he has worn away the paint at the front of his desk, tapping out their mesmerising rhythms. They are meant to be read and read again.
Exquisite in their entirety, they include some internal rhymes, delicious little morsels that roll off your tongue and make you want to whisper them out loud, like this one from IX Starlight:
“a trembling tear, a hiss, a kiss, a dare.”
Or this, from XV Lupus:
“For now…until sworn Dawn breaks blearily:
Bone-white wolf-moon waits, weary and wary.”
From time to time, I came across the odd half-rhyme, like the ones we know from modern rap, the lines that don’t quite fit and yet are perfect in spite of their flaws. Those made me smile, because instead of forcing his words to fit the form, Collings has adapted the form to his message. He plays with punctuation too, so suddenly the form is loose, yet rigid, like an up-do styled for the theatre, where invisible hair spray creates a careless tousled look. It’s a relaxed style, unstudied and causal, but we all know it took hours to achieve. Then Collings goes a step further, leaving creamy white spaces in his text, like the sweep of shoulder, or an unadorned neck, shameless nakedness which only serves to make the rest of the outfit sparkle. As four-time Bram Stoker Award winning poet Linda Addison states in her foreword:
“Even space and slashes / / become substantial tools to transform a poem from order to ordered madness. Some words cluster close to eachother from need. Or push away in revulsion.”
I love Collings’ use of neologisms, that subtle blurring of words to tease out exactly the sentiment, the nuance, which he intends: ‘grumblesteps’, and ‘dayShine’, ‘slickporous’ and ‘slakesate’, are examples. Then there is the exquisite darkness of the images, simple phrases which evoke disgust, loneliness and awe:
“Hermaphroditic eggs in fleshless throats.”
“Rough concrete stanchions where lights once glowed at dusk.”
“And in that endless fragment of the day‒
Sun not yet live…not yet extinct‒hope flickers.”
If Corona Obscura is a crown, then every poem is a jewel, so it is difficult to choose a favourite. I’ll pick one anyway: XXVII Undead.
If you’ve never read speculative poetry, this is as good a place as any to start, and since Collings has offered us a corona, anywhere you chose to begin is fine, since you’ll only come back upon yourself. Exquisite.
Corona Obscura (Michael R Collings)
Independently published, 2016