The first poem in this collection cannot help but draw the reader in; titled "Reader," it evokes so many aspects of our passion for books: "Looker, gazer, skimmer, skipper,/thumb-linking page turner, peruser,/you getting your print-fix for the day." "Reader" started the journey into Billy Collins' latest work on an exceptionally high note.
Many of the poems in the collection are about poetry and the work of the poet. Some of these poems are quite serious as in "The Trouble with Poetry," which includes the marvelous quatrain: "Poetry fills me with joy/and I rise like a feather in the wind./Poetry fills me with sorrow/and I sink like a chain flung from a bridge." But even when he is serious, Collins manages to be amusing. "The Trouble with Poetry" also includes these lines: "the trouble with poetry is/that it encourages the writing of more poetry," accompanied by a prediction that poets will keep on writing until "we have compared everything in the world/to everything else in the world." He writes about the topics people suggest he should write about; riffs on the predominance of the word death in the work of John Donne; and reflects on the biographies of authors included in a haiku collection.
Collins also writes about daily life--eating alone in a restaurant, a child's belief that making his mother a lanyard at camp is a fair trade for all she did in raising the child, burying the family cat, teenage girls' use of the phrase "Oh, My God!" Many of the poems are witty, some take an unexpected turn along the way, all are accessible to the average reader. If the poems don't pack the gut-punch that some poems do, the collection is nonetheless enjoyable.
I realized while reading this book how little I know about the various forms that poetry takes. I don't even know whether, for example, a poem that alternatives two- and three-line stanzas has a name and whether the poet sets out to write a poem in this form or it emerges as he/she works. Perhaps my next read needs to be a basic poetry textbook!
life's end just around another corner or two,
yet out the morning window
the thrust of a new blossom from that bush
whose colorful name I can never remember.
From "American Airlines #371"
Just because I'm dead now doesn't mean
I don't exist anymore.
All those eulogies and the obituary
in the corner of the newspaper
have made me feel more vibrant than ever.
From "All Eyes"
But why not honor the literal for a change,
let the rules speak for themselves,
and not get all periwinkle with allegory?
From "Friends in the Dark"
You are turning me
like someone turning a globe in her hand,
and yes, I have another side
lake a China no one,
not even me, has ever seen.