“Face Like a Star”: On Arda Collins’ Star Lake


Arda Collins. Star Lake. Brooklyn, NY: The Song Cave, 2022. 74 pages.

Arda Collins’s Star Lake is metaphysically bent—this second collection questions the porousness or compressibility of time, distance, and scale. Many of its poems conjure place or situation through sensory detail and description, then dilate their perceptive fields as they seek to articulate the book’s true subject: an unbounded sense of presence that filters through or impels corporeal experience. How “time comes through a face like a star.” (35) 

Often, first lines like “A butterfly appears” (16), “Lightning over the field” (34), and “Now we’re on  a big, flat, sunny road” (43) scene-set for poems that then turn either languidly or immediately toward the intangible. A bit of “Afternoon”: 

Now we’re on a big, flat, sunny road 
by the grocery store. 
It’s cold enough outside.
We can’t believe it, 
how we’re here together;
then we talk about eternity 
when the whole thing is, is 
 is eternity… (43) 

In this poem and throughout, Collins’s speakers think through their emplacement within spatial and temporal networks that resist familiar paradigms like discreteness and linearity. And they think without forsaking senses of humor and wonderment. In the lines above, eternity as an idea isn’t so much what surprises; rather, it’s wild to the speaker that shes in eternity: a perceiving individual consciousness, having managed to find form and resonance within vastness—and  alongside a beloved, no less. (The book is sprinkled with such moments of self-recognition—“I  walked past a black walnut tree / with my broken eye; / a walnut just like my eye!” (48)). Later lines—“The day in the windshield / is very close. Your head turned / towards me / shows a distant  ecstasy” (43)—acknowledge simultaneously the always-otherness of what is external to us, and the intimacy we access when we understand ourselves as ultimately interconnected. 

It is love—and grief, love’s shadow—that gives urgency to and propels the book’s questions. In  “Restored Ending,” the speaker recognizes her dead parents as two trees, still in relationship to each  other: “The pine tree and the willow tree / are in love, together by the river” (53). Sometimes, Collins’s speaker laments an inability to locate or touch her deceased mother: “Where is my mother? Is she near or far? Like a neutrino or like a moon? A whale, I imagine, or the white air over the pond  on a summer evening?” (33). And sometimes, the poems long while also registering closeness: “Late Summer, Late Winter, and Genocide,” activates the speaker’s sense of nearness to events experienced by her family of refugees from Armenian genocide that she was not present to witness. This poem opens with a playfully eerie stanza that rhymes “pleasure,” “tethers,” and “forever,” and ends “All there is is forever, / an apricot tree and stones in the dust, the  edge of your soul at your face” (8). Then shifts:

A war happens 
far from you, and inside 
your face is where it lies. The sky is blue 
and all its corollaries have only ever been that 
                                            your family of refugees is eventually free. (8) 

After asserting the ever presence of “all there is” and the visibility of what “happens” seemingly far away in space and time on the “face,” which is the expression of individual being and where the soul appears, Collins’s tenses and pronouns begin to slip and blur. When she writes, “Your great grandmother carried her children / across the desert, your grandmother, her sister, their brother /  who died,” “your” might refer to a relative or to the speaker herself. So, further, “you, your sister; /  weren’t you at this?”; and “Didn’t we survive someday?” compress and conflate individuals,  landscapes, timescapes, and emotional experiences together into the present of the poem, which is  the speaker’s state of mind: a refraction of the ancestral, the spiritual, the daily. This attunement sometimes surfaces as disorientation, resulting not from distractedness or overwhelm but from a  heightened awareness—one that seeks to, as well as collect details of present external and  internal experience, account for the ephemeral, the invisible, the past, and the future, and through investigating them, unravels their distinctions. In an interview with BOMB, Collins said, “I like  thinking about being outside of time a lot. Time and no time are the same thing. We’re arriving on time, or never. We’re doing it right now…It’s that feeling you’re just going into open time. It’s right here on earth, right now. This is the cosmos.” [2]

Denise Riley, in her Time Lived, Without Its Flow [1], describes a version of “a-chronicity,” “a-temporality” incited by grief. She writes, “…to outlive a sudden death makes it evident that your ordinary time, which had once ‘flowed,’ had never been much like a clear stream, or a fluid held in glass. Now… non-time…has dropped you down into its own still landscape of brilliant clarity…a not unpleasant state of tremendous simplicity” (103–104). In such a state, “sensations that once would have been  incommensurable can now flourish side by side. What then do we call this multiplied perception?  Liminal?” (97). We can see how the “incommensurable…flourish side by side” in Collins’s poems,  in how both separation and utter closeness reverberate “inside a skull or two” (16); in the imagination.

Riley describes a poetics that might embody the state of non-time with multiplied perception: “A  poem may well be carried by oscillation, a to-and-fro, rather than by some forward-leaning chronological drive. It both sanctions and enacts an experience of time which is not linear” (118).  Star Lake’s poems avoid “forward-leaning chronological drive” variously, and the impulse to resist  is especially legible in her endings. “Summer Day” meditates on familial relationship—“They  know everything about me / because I’ve told them, / with my eyes, / for many years”—before  abruptly turning away: “I have more to say / but I’m at the post office and I have to go home now” (14). In “Wind,” the speaker seeks without finding and so walks without arriving “until / my  clothes were in tatters / and the ocean was still” (13). “Story” says, “there is no story” (15). And the  final poem suspends in a liminal midst, an obstructed stream of traffic: “We just visited our friends  in Westchester and the traffic is terrible. / We’re not going to get home until very late” (58). 

If there isn’t a story, there’s nevertheless an intricate, partly navigable network of reverberating experience, where feeling lasts beyond event or materiality. When asked, “What became of all the things that never  happened?” Collins answered: “They’re still here. Somewhere.” 


Works Cited 

[1] Denise Riley. Time Lived, Without Its Flow. London: Picador, 2019.   

[2] “Dusk: An Interview with Arda Collins.” By Courtney Maum. BOMB (January 25, 2012). https://bombmagazine.org/articles/dusk-an-interview-with-arda-collins/

Emelie Griffin is a poet, editor, translator, and PhD candidate at the University of Houston. Her poems appear in New England Review, Denver Quarterly, American Chordata, and elsewhere.