Some Things I Still Can’t Tell You, the long-awaited book of poetry from Supernatural’s Misha Collins, is out today. There is no doubt that fans of the actor will adore the 135-page volume, but I hope that some strangers will fall in love with it as well.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to write this review. I’d been struggling for literally months with how to say what I knew I wanted to say when I was, at the eleventh hour, rescued from bashing my head into a brick wall by the man of the moment himself. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly earlier this week, Collins said of his publication: “It’s weird because I’m a CW actor, and if you were to tell me a CW actor is publishing a book of poetry, I don’t want to read that. But I’m actually kind of proud of the poems and I’ve gotten really good feedback about the book.”
What Collins says here is a little self-flagellating, but his point touches on the most pressing feeling I’ve had since first reading Some Things I Still Can’t Tell You. Herein lies my concern: This book will never not be about CW Actor Misha Collins to me, and for the poems contained within to be appreciated in the way that I personally feel that poetry should be appreciated, it deserves to also find an organic audience that does not know or care about CW Actor Misha Collins.
This is a little difficult to explain, but please don’t take this in bad faith. I promise that I’m not saying that fans caring isn’t good enough. Hear me out.
Collins would be the last person to say that the support of his fans doesn’t matter, or isn’t important, or isn’t “enough.” It speaks loudly that he’s willing to trust them – us – with this. What Collins has done sheerly by publishing this volume is fairly extraordinary. He’s admitted that the book is largely autobiographical, a selection of poems penned at different time periods all throughout his life, and the prospect of putting out a book containing dozens of moments that you know will be studied under a microscope by a readership that’s already closely invested in (and sometimes inappropriately speculative about) the details of your life is a much more terrifying prospect, in my opinion, than putting the same book out to a public that has no context about the author. It’s brave as hell.
For fans, that’s a gift and a privilege. It’s a new level of personal intimacy offered by an actor, who, by nature of the way that his career has unfolded, is someone that his fans already feel like they know quite a lot about. An invitation to see him clearer, humanize him further. It’s de-pedestalizing and vulnerable, often revealing, an admittance of flaws and fears. Given the often-chaotic landscape that is the Supernatural fandom, I wouldn’t have had the guts to do it, so I’ve wondered if Collins was anxious about publishing his deeply personal thoughts to a watchful audience who will immediately be able to place many of the people, locations and circumstances being referred to in the book: when he talks about his house, we can picture it in our minds’ eye; when he talks about friends and family, they’re often people we’ve heard about via the numerous anecdotes that Collins has shared in countless convention panels over the last decade.
Fans will know, for example, that Collins has penned one poem from the point of view of his Supernatural character Castiel, and that he won’t reveal which one, so will be dedicated to close-reading every verse and ruling out the obvious to narrow down the pool. (Yes, I have done this. My money is on “The Mother of Learning,” but I have a shortlist of five poems that I’d bet at least a few dollars on.)
Poems like the one titled “Marder” will glow warmer in the chests of Collins’ dedicated fans, because his fans know the context of the relationship with the poem’s subject, and poems that describe personal situations that we don’t know about will make the intensely curious fandom perhaps more curious still. I know that they’ll attempt to parse out what the unknown factors could be, just as I know that they’ll strongly project empathy about the emotional moments he’s shared, including his insecurities about having children, his parental relationships and his romantic history. (That’s one reason why this is a review along the lines of “this is what the book, conceptually, made me think about” rather than “this is what the book, specifically, is about” – the latter would involve picking over Collins’ personal life in a way I did not feel comfortable doing in print.)
But I include myself when I say that I think that reading Some Things I Still Can’t Tell You will make Misha Collins fans feel more invested in Collins himself as a person – it’s unavoidable. It is not possible for me to extract the work from the person who wrote it. And I knew this, going in. I knew that this is how I would feel, and the fact of the matter is, I worry that because of this – if I’m the norm, not the outlier – then the book won’t get a chance to stand out on its own merit, just for the writing. I feel like that there’s two obvious strains of people who will find out about this book’s existence: one, the people who will buy it immediately, fans of the CW actor, because they’re already interested; and two, the people who, as Collins stated in this article’s inciting quote, would understand the context of his name and immediately and write it off because it’s the quote unquote vanity project of CW actor Misha Collins.
This really bothers me, because objectively, or as objectively as one can be about something as subjective as the art of poetry, this book is a really worthwhile read just in terms of wordsmithery. Collins is right to be proud, and I want people to discover it in the same way I’ve discovered the poetry that means the most to me.
I am no student of poetry, but more so than prose or any other kind of writing, I believe that poetry being “good” or “bad” is ultimately a nonsense idea – poetry either connects with you or it doesn’t. It either feels profound, awakening, lightning – or it’s just a bunch of words arranged with a cadence to express a bunch of sentiments that don’t mean anything to you. The next person who comes along might feel the lightning in exactly the same jumble that you glossed over.
What I do know is that the poetry that I have connected with the most – the stuff that’s really taken me out at the knees – has been the stuff that I’ve discovered in passing: in a collection, in the foreword of a novel, recited in a movie, even on social media. I’m a millennial, I’m not immune to the value of an artfully made GIF set quoting beautiful words that I’ve never encountered before. The unexpected encounter and the lack of outside influence – the lack of context for the author or anything else outside the moment of connection between me and the words offered to me – is what truly makes a poem feel like mine, like something that I can carry as a piece of me.
I’ve always felt this way about art. I’ve always struggled with the death of the author as a concept. I feel this way about songs, too, in particular – even, occasionally, moments in books or movies or TV episodes, though these lend more towards straight up fiction writing than the authorial point of view in something like a song or a poem, so it’s a bit different. Regardless, the more I know of the true story of what the words were about for the writer, the more the words will always be, for me, about them specifically. If a personal story is shared, then that is what the work is about forevermore. And it doesn’t mean I love it less – often, keening with empathy for someone else’s story feels like a stronger love than applying their words as an explainer for my own circumstance. It’s just different, you know?
I’m aware this is contrary to the aims of a lot of writers and poets and lyricists, who might often want their work to be more broadly relatable. They aren’t as selfish or as protective with matters of intent, interpretation and meaning as I am on their behalf. But I just can’t do it. For me, the author is not dead, they’re fucking immortal. The better I know the artist’s story, the more I struggle to see their work as being anything other than about them. It will never be about me. My relationship to work like that will always be about my parasocial relationship to the creator, my empathy for them, my investment in them. For a piece of writing to feel – as a reader – like it’s mine, I have to have little to no awareness of the creator as a human being.
So you understand what I mean when I say that Some Things I Just Can’t Tell You is going to live in a certain place in my heart – the part that’s dedicated to other people, rather than the part that’s dedicated to myself. Yet I find myself frustrated with the potential of, well, untapped potential for the book – because I know that it really should find its way into the self of others. Because that’s what I see as poetry’s greatest strength.
Due to the nature of the internet, I feel the need to keep disclaiming this: I’m aware that not all Misha Collins fans will feel the way that I do. I am sure that there are some who will find things in the book that feel like theirs, and of course, Collins includes many universal ideas to connect with. But I’ve spoken to a number of other fans who are in agreement on this point: it’s impossible for us to separate the sentiments of the poems from how they relate to Misha Collins specifically. They refuse to stand alone.
For me, Some Things I Still Can’t Tell You holds a place more like a memoir – a vehicle for learning about Collins more closely – than it does a piece of art to exist on its own without authorial context, ready to nourish the readers that discover it randomly with fragments that they can clutch at and add to the fabric of themselves.
I find myself somewhat wistful for the experience of encountering this book on its artistic merit alone – it deserves that chance and that audience – but ultimately, I wouldn’t trade it for my years of pre-existing investment in Collins as a person. For me, this book is about him. I just hope that the poems of Some Things I Still Can’t Tell You get every possible chance to offer all that they can to a wider scope of people, to become a book that someone out there feels is about them, whether they know who Misha Collins is or not.
So if you’re a fan: cherish this piece of Misha that you can now hold in your hands. Believe me, there’s a lot to cherish. And then pay it forward – share this book with a friend or even a stranger, who isn’t in the loop. That’s what I’ll be doing, anyway – trying to offer the book a fresh chance to become a piece of someone else, the way it isn’t ever going to be a piece of me. Perhaps a rampant Christmas gifting campaign is in order?