I’m on a little bit of a Billy Collins poetry kick lately. A few weeks ago, I saw his 2002 collection Nine Horses at the library; today, his newest collection (and I didn’t know there was one) Ballistics was on the New Releases shelf. So, yeah, you could say I’ve become a Billy Collins fan.
I like poetry, but I also like to understand my poetry. I don’t like wasting time, which was my issue with many of the selections in The Best American Poetry 2008. I just didn’t understand what the hell most of the best poems were about.
That’s not the case with the poems of Billy Collins, who served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001-2003, and Poet Laureate of New York State from 2004-2006. Collins writes about the simple life moments, taking an instant or thought and turning it into a something that makes the reader think differently or see something in a different way.
Among the 51 poems in Nine Horses, my favorites included “Tipping Point,” “Obituaries,” “Bermuda,” and “More Than a Woman.” (Yes, it is about the Bee Gees song and those songs that sometimes get stuck in your head. See what I mean? How can you not love a poet who writes about the Bee Gees?)
Because I read the obits every day, I’m including this one here for you to read a little Billy Collins for yourself.
“Obituaries,” by Billy Collins from Nine Horses (Random House), pg. 33.
These are no pages for the young,
who are better off in one another’s arms,
nor for those who just need to know
about the price of gold,
or a hurricane that is ripping up the Keys.
But eventually you may join
the crowd who turn here first to see
who has fallen in the night,
who has left a shape of air walking in their place.
Here is where the final cards are shown,
the age, the cause, the plaque of deeds,
and sometimes an odd scrap of news-
that she collected sugar bowls,
that he played solitaire without any clothes.
And all the survivors huddle at the end
under the roof of a paragraph
as if they had sidestepped the flame of death.
What better way to place a thin black frame
around the things of the morning-
the hand-painted cup,
the hemispheres of a cut orange,
the slant of sunlight on the table?
And sometimes a most peculiar pair turns up,
strange roommates lying there
side by side upon the page-
Arthur Godfrey next to Man Ray,
Ken Kesey by the side of Dale Evans.
It is enough to bring to mind an ark of death,
not the couples of the animal kingdom,
but rather pairs of men and women
ascending the gangplank two by two,
surgeon and model,
balloonist and metalworker,
an archaeologist and an authority on pain.
Arm in arm, they get on board
then join the others leaning on the rails,
all saved at last from the awful flood of life-
so many of them every day
there would have to be many arks,
an armada to ferry the dead
over the heavy waters that roll beyond the world,
and many Noahs too,
bearded and fiercely browed, vigilant up there at every prow.
My rating: 4