News and Events
Poet Michael Collings Finds Inspiration in Unlikely Places
By Jaime Buck
It was January 1979, and a young professor was worried. Michael Collings and his wife, Judi, had three small children and a fourth on the way, when he learned that the renewal of his contract was not guaranteed.
That month, after Collings presented a paper at alma mater Whittier College, an older professor in the audience recommended that he look into teaching opportunities at Pepperdine University. Collings followed the advice, and by June was settled into his position as a professor of composition at Seaver College.
The years have seen many changes; now, fifty-six year old Dr. Collings is a fixture on the Malibu campus, often seen at one of his favorite places to compose poetry, the Waves Café. In addition to his many roles at Pepperdine, including professor of literature, director of the creative writing program, and faculty advisor to the student-run Expressionist magazine, Collings has served as Seaver's poet-in-residence since 1997. Three of his four children are Seaver graduates: sons Ethan (B.A. '98, SC) and MichaelBrent (B.A. '99, SC), and most recently daughter Kendra (B.A. '03, SC). All of his children live in Southern California, including daughter Erika, whose children inspire the twinkle in Collings' eye.
It may be surprising to some that the John Milton-devotee whom colleague, Dr. David Gibson, describes as "gentle, quiet, and crazy about his grandchildren," is also a renowned expert on the horror and science fiction writers Stephen King and Orson Scott Card.
But it's true, and Collings' own bibliography of one thousand-plus published works reflects his seemingly paradoxical interests. Perhaps his masterpiece is the twelve-book epic poem, The Nephiad (White Crow Press), but his most recent work, Horror Plum'D: An International Stephen King Bibliography and Guide, 1960-2000 (Overlook Connection Press), is a comprehensive guide to all things King—a 547-page volume fifteen years in the making. (The latter book's title is a sly nod to Milton's Paradise Lost). According to Collings, there are more epic characteristics in great science fiction writing than the casual reader may realize.
The work of Seaver's most published poet (1,600 poems and counting) has been so well received within the science fiction community, that he has the ability to work with many of his subjects. He has met and corresponded with King, but it is Collings' camaraderie with Card that he especially treasures. When in doubt about a specific passage, the famous novelist is only a phone call away. While for Collings, no writer may ever surpass Milton, he admits with a laugh, "It's really nice working with living, contemporary writers."
Collings also enjoys working with the contemporary writers he teaches every day at Seaver. He works diligently to help his students understand the structure, rhythm, rhyme and meter of poetry, then lets them fly because "once they understand it, they can explore, use, and manipulate the language."
Poetry appealed to Collings at an early age, but over time simply writing poetry was not enough. "For the past twenty years," he says, "I have actively sought ways to transform my urge to poetry into other media." Those media have included playing the organ for his church, binding books, publishing a cookbook with his wife, crocheting a wedding dress for his daughter, and making a wedding cake for his son.
Most notably, his poems have taken the form of wire-wrapped jewelry, a hobby he picked up after watching Judi design jewelry. The January 2004 issue of The Wire Artist Jeweller magazine featured Collings' work on the cover, and in the past has showcased his pieces, like "IceStorm," alongside their written counterparts. Wire-wrapping jewelry helps him focus and manage the frustrations that accompany tinnitus, a serious hearing condition that has progressively worsened over the last ten years.
"Poetry provides me with a means of holding on to identity, individuality, occasionally even sanity, when things become difficult," he says, "and allows me to continue as a husband, father, and grandfather, servant to my congregation, teacher to my students, and a voice that occasionally speaks something important to a waiting reader."
A career at any other university would certainly have taken him down a different path, and Collings is pleased that almost 25 years ago, a colleague recommended Pepperdine. "Sometimes I just stop wherever I am and look around, grateful for the opportunity to spend so much of my life here."
This story first appeared in the Pepperdine Voice Magazine, Winter 2004.