Corona Obscura: SonnetsDark and Elemental: By Michael R. Collings, 2016, 78 pages.
I’ve been reading a lot of poetry lately. After reviewing the wonderful work Sacrificial Nights by Bruce Boston and Alessandro Manzetti, I received a kindle version of another ambitious poetry collection—Corona Obscura, by Michael R. Collings. This is a series of linked sonnets, all of which fall into the category of horror and dark fantasy.
Sonnets are among the most popular and most widely recognizable traditional forms in poetry. I guess the most traditional form is fourteen lines with each line having ten syllables. Collings, who knows far, far more about such things than I do, has an appendix (two actually) at the end of his work that explains a sonnet in much more detail, and also explains how, where, and why he varied from the standard. There is also “A Note on the Form” at the beginning that explains the linked sonnet concept and refers to them as “Crowns of sonnets.” This information was all well and good, and was interesting, but I was personally much more concerned with the poetry itself, with the language, the rhythm, the emotion. It’s fine to have ambitions for a piece of work, but does the work live up to those? Well, let’s see.
After an introduction by the poet Linda D. Addison, and the opening “note,” we come to the first piece, “Obsession.” This really starts the collection off strongly. A good ‘story’ gives the reader an immediate sense of place and sets a mood and character. “Obsession” does this for Corona Obscura. Listen: “Each time I stalk the valley’s graveled road, / Pause near the creek that slits the browning yard / In twisted ribbons, only to explode / White rage beyond the bridge I feel a shard / Of potent loss, as if my life has flowed /
I’m there, walking that road, seeing the creek and the bridge. Poetry is often not so grounding and I was glad to see it, especially for such a complex endeavor as this collection. The last line of “Obsession” is: “Each time I leave, I know I will return.” This is a place we all know, and it reflects the nature of the pieces within the collection, where each ending line becomes the opening line of the next poem. That dovetailing is quite extraordinary. I’ve seen it done before but it doesn’t usually work as well as here.
In a linked collection such as Corona Obscura, story is important, and there is a strong one running throughout, although it is not a simple straightforward tale and there are plenty of places where we slip into what I’d categorize as alternate or dream realities. We always have concrete touchstones, however—houses, tombs, soil, rain, ash. For me, however, the primary reason I read poetry is to see the naked power of language unleashed. Collings does not fail to deliver.
“My flawed blood throbs…”
“In the fragile mind where vampires bloom.”
“Western radiance knits wan clouds to shroud”
“Sheer hunger sated by a crimson mead.”
“Fade with night as sunbright knives invade.”
“Bone-white wolf-moon waits, weary and wary.”
“sable swans glide on lakes as flat as lead.”
These are powerful phrases. They sing. They intrigue. There is one phrase in the collection that I think categorizes it all—“Transfixed by darkness…” This fascination, delight, and fear of darkness in all its forms is why this collection exists. Here we have the transmutation of darkness into art. I highly recommend it. Here's the link on Amazon if you care to take a look.