Authors: Michael Collier

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet

Author Works


The Clasp, and Other Poems, 1986

The Folded Heart, 1989

The Neighbor, 1995

The Ledge, 2000

Edited Texts:

The Wesleyan Tradition: Four Decades of American Poetry, 1993

The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, 1999 (with Stanley Plumly)

The New American Poets: A Bread Loaf Anthology, 2000


Michael Collier was born in 1953 to Robert and Lucille Collier. In 1981 he married Katherine Branch, and together they had two children, Robert and David. Collier attended Connecticut College, receiving his B.A. in 1976. At Connecticut College, he studied with the poet William Meredith; Meredith and Collier developed a lifelong friendship, and Meredith’s influence is apparent in much of Collier’s work. Collier received his M.F.A. at the University of Arizona in 1979.{$I[A]Collier, Michael}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Collier, Michael}{$I[tim]1953;Collier, Michael}

Collier received numerous awards for his poetry, including National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in 1984 and 1994, the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America in 1988, a Pushcart Prize (1990), the Nation/Discovery Award (1981), and a Guggenheim Fellowship (1995). He was named Poet Laureate of Maryland in February, 2001.

His career includes a variety of academic and arts administration positions. He was the director of poetry programs at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., from 1983 to 1984. Collier began teaching creative writing at the University of Maryland at College Park in 1984 and became the director of the creative writing program in the early 1990’s. He also held academic positions at The Johns Hopkins University, Yale University, and Warren Wilson College. Collier became the director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in 1995 and was praised for reinvigorating the conference’s lineup of visiting writers as well as reestablishing the conference’s reputation and seriousness of purpose.

Collier’s aesthetic places him in the vibrant center of postmodern American poetics. If two extremes of late twentieth century poetry reside in the experimentalism of the Language Poets and the structure and reverence of formalism, one can say that Collier stands squarely in the middle of such extremes, using a plain-speaking American voice that relies on honesty, accuracy of detail, and the belief in the power of poetry to transform and elevate human experience.

His first two books, The Clasp, and Other Poems and The Folded Heart, show Collier’s affection for objects. The interaction between the poet and object creates a dynamic that allows Collier to explore memory, grief, and loss throughout these books. Each object becomes a point of departure and a centering device, a trigger for poetic meditation.

Collier never abandons the triggering object for the wholly imaginary. When his poems return to the triggering object, they return to a literal and concrete world, almost as if reminding the reader that this world of objects can never be escaped, not even through imagination. For instance, in the final lines of “Feedback” (in The Folded Heart), the penultimate stanza shows the speaker almost lost in imagination–stirring “molecules of sound” and receding “deeper, more separate,/ into your selves”–before the poem suddenly turns back to the literal world where the poem began: a converted garage with “brown Georgia-Pacific/ paneling,” “green burlap curtains,” and “avocado-green carpet.”

The Neighbor, Collier’s third book, makes a turn toward capturing the darker, almost sinister, aspects of everyday suburban life. “Bread Route” is a narrative poem that begins telling about a childhood sleepover that was ruined by the speaker’s friend, Randy Niver, who “cried so hard” he had to be taken home. While the speaker suggests that the child is more comfortable in the familiar world of his family and home, the details of Randy Niver’s family do not seem comforting to the reader: “a father’s boot, van door sliding shut/ bread racks empty, a clipboard waiting for its routing slips.” The poem ends on this image and suggests that the child’s family members are uncommunicative and distanced from one another. There is a similar undercurrent throughout the book.

Collier’s fourth collection, The Ledge, broadens the range of his subject matter by using many different kinds of examples–mythology, religion, birds, bees, possums, and even cable television–to find appropriate analogies for personal experience. In the poem “Brave Sparrow,” the sparrow that “guards a tiny ledge/ against the starlings/ that cruise the neighborhood” becomes a sort of hero for its ability to witness the world around it without entering into the dangers of that world. If the sparrow were to enter that world, it would surely be destroyed by the starlings or cats out there. Collier is displaying more willingness to abandon the need for answers and connections, implying that beauty can only be found through the process of mystery and gazing, similar to British poet John Keats’s theory of negative capability.

As the editor of three anthologies of poetry, Collier reveals his literary taste to be wide-ranging and eclectic. The New American Poets was described by Carol Muske-Davis as an “internalization of the pluralistic, the disjunctive, the performative.” Incorporating various aesthetics in this manner is, according to Collier’s introduction, “peculiarly American.”

BibliographyHenry, Brian. Review of The Ledge, by Michael Collier. The New York Times Book Review, April 30, 2000. This short, vituperative review uses most of its words to point to places where the reviewer finds fault with the book’s sentimentality and lack of insight. The reviewer begins to discuss “The Brave Sparrow” (“the book’s best poem”) but this brief review is closed before any insight can be gathered. There is one helpful point made in this review: a suggestion of where the “emotional intensity” of this book exists.Longenbach, James. “Poetry in Review.” Yale Review 83 (October, 1995): 144-147. Places Collier within a school of contemporary academic poets.Muske-Davis, Carol. “Out of the Cradle Violently Rocking: The New Young Poets–Review.” Kenyon Review, Summer/Fall, 2001. This discussion of three poetry anthologies published in 2000 gives an apt review of the aesthetic of Collier’s The New American Poets.Reel, Monte. “Everyday Life, Uncommon Passion: Poet Laureate Offers New View.” The Washington Post, March 25, 2001, p. C5. Discusses Collier’s intention to become an ambassador for poetry throughout the state of Maryland.Review of The Folded Heart, by Michael Collier. Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring, 1990. This favorable review of Collier’s second book can help readers find clues into his symbolism as well as insights about the success of his narrative style.
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