My Bishop and Other Poems, Michael Collier 2018

Collier is the author of six books of poetry and the editor of three anthologies. The long time Director of the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and the Poet Laureate of Maryland, he lives in Cornwall, VT, and this book is a nominee for the 2019 Vermont Book Award.  It is a compelling volume of poems, mostly short ones about memory and the past, though the natural world and many fellow poets are important topics as well.  My favorites were two much longer poems, one the eponymous ‘My Bishop’ and the other ‘The Storm’.  The latter weaves together four separate stories about the early 1980’s when Collier and his wife lived in DC. The threads of a mugging outside his apartment, the crash of Air Florida #92 in the Potomac River, his father’s crossing paths with Charles Lindbergh, and the suicide of a college friend, all come together in the final stanza when he writes:  “but a scrap of paper with a name, a power cord dragging in snow,/O’Laughlin hanging up the phone, my father’s short snorter,/a bit boring through the door, the airplane picking up speed,/thunder inside the snow, “God, look at that thing.”/one of the pilots said. “that don’t look right.”  One of the best final lines of any poem I can recall.  The other long poem,’My Bishop’ brings home in a very personal way the child sexual abuse scandal of the Church. Collier was a young altar boy in a church in Arizona where two young priests presided.  One was an abuser and the other ended up being a bishop who moved guilty priests around the diocese and protected them, not their victims.  The bishop shows up at Collier’s father’s and then mother’s funerals where Collier writes “I pity, dislike, and I’m fond of him.” It’s a nearly perfect summary of the damage done to children by the men in whom they put their faith and love.  This is a powerful book worth reading and re-reading.

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