Sometimes I forget how satisfying it can be to read poetry; Mrs. Vandlingâ€™s English classes almost killed the medium for me many years ago. But now, thankfully, there is Billy Collins, Americaâ€™s Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003. I picked up my third collection of his poems, â€śHoroscopes for the Deadâ€ť (2011), couldnâ€™t put it down until I had finished it, and then reread a few of my favorite verses. Some are wise, some touching, some hilarious and many are all of the above.
Collinsâ€™ poems satisfy on so many levels. As in my other collections of his work, â€śSailing Alone around the Roomâ€ť (2002) and â€śThe Trouble with Poetryâ€ť (2007), his poems are concise and his language, simple. In this new collection he addresses a short-lived episode of writerâ€™s block in his usual self-deprecating style:
â€śI must have picked up the wrong pen,
The one that had no poem lurking in its vein of ink. …â€ť
His subjects are ordinary â€” walks in his neighborhood, noisy children in a motel pool, a dying rose and the pressure to write thank-you notes. But Collins has a delightful way of taking a sharp left turn in his poems and making an imaginative leap or taking us to a point of great depth.
Often these departures from the predictable course of a poem deliver his humor. In the poem entitled â€śLe FlĂ˘neurâ€ť referring to the contemplative lone Frenchman one might see strolling the streets of Paris, Collins writes:
â€śHe considers the boulevards ideal for thinking,
So he takes the air on a weekday evening
To best appreciate the crisis of modern life.
â€śI thought I would try this for a while,
But instead of being in Paris, I was in Florida,
So the time-honored sights were not available to me. …â€ť
Later in the poem we discover all was not in vain. He writes:
â€śI did notice a man looking at his watch
And I reflected briefly on the passage of time. …â€ť
This collection includes many poems that show he has certainly reflected more thoroughly on the passage of time. In â€śCemetery Ride,â€ť he begins:
â€śMy new copper-colored bicycle
Is looking pretty fine under a blue sky
As I pedal along one of the sandy paths
In the Palm Cemetery here in Florida,
â€śWheeling past the headstones of the Lyons,
The Campbells, the Dunlaps, and the Davenports,
Arthur and Ethel who outlived him by 11 years
I slow down even more to notice. …â€ť
Moving past others he expresses a wish to take them all for a ride in his wire basket to enjoy the beautiful spring day, and he says:
â€śThen how about just you, Enid Parker?
Would you like to gather up your voluminous skirts
And ride sidesaddle on the crossbar
And tell me what happened between 1863 and 1931? …â€ť
Collins found a charming way to convey his philosophy of life in the poem entitled â€śMy Hero,â€ť shown in its entirety here:
â€śJust as the hare is zipping across the finish line,
The tortoise has stopped once again
By the roadside,
This time to stick out his neck
And nibble a bit of sweet grass,
Unlike the previous time
When he was distracted
By a bee humming in the heart of a wildflower.â€ť
I suggest that you, too, stop and smell the roses or, just as pleasant, sit down with one of the collections of the poems of Billy Collins.