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Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems [Hardcover]

Billy Collins
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

22 Oct 2013

“America’s favorite poet.”—The Wall Street Journal

From the two-term Poet Laureate of the United States Billy Collins comes his first volume of new and selected poems in twelve years. Aimless Love combines fifty new poems with generous selections from his four most recent books—Nine Horses, The Trouble with Poetry, Ballistics, and Horoscopes for the Dead. Collins’s unmistakable voice, which brings together plain speech with imaginative surprise, is clearly heard on every page, reminding us how he has managed to enrich the tapestry of contemporary poetry and greatly expand its audience. His work is featured in top literary magazines such as The New Yorker, Poetry, and The Atlantic, and he sells out reading venues all across the country. Appearing regularly in The Best American Poetry series, his poems appeal to readers and live audiences far and wide and have been translated into more than a dozen languages. By turns playful, ironic, and serious, Collins’s poetry captures the nuances of everyday life while leading the reader into zones of inspired wonder. In the poet’s own words, he hopes that his poems “begin in Kansas and end in Oz.” Touching on the themes of love, loss, joy, and poetry itself, these poems showcase the best work of this “poet of plenitude, irony, and Augustan grace” (The New Yorker).

Go, little book,
out of this house and into the world,
carriage made of paper rolling toward town
bearing a single passenger
beyond the reach of this jittery pen
and far from the desk and the nosy gooseneck lamp.
It is time to decamp,
put on a jacket and venture outside,
time to be regarded by other eyes,
bound to be held in foreign hands.
So off you go, infants of the brain,
with a wave and some bits of fatherly advice:
stay out as late as you like,
don’t bother to call or write,
and talk to as many strangers as you can.

Praise for Aimless Love
“[Billy Collins] is able, with precious few words, to make me cry. Or laugh out loud. He is a remarkable artist. To have such power in such an abbreviated form is deeply inspiring.”—J. J. Abrams, The New York Times Book Review
“His work is poignant, straightforward, usually funny and imaginative, also nuanced and surprising. It bears repeated reading and reading aloud.”The Plain Dealer
“Collins has earned almost rock-star status. . . . He knows how to write layered, subtly witty poems that anyone can understand and appreciate—even those who don’t normally like poetry. . . . The Collins in these pages is distinctive, evocative, and knows how to make the genre fresh and relevant.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“Collins’s new poems contain everything you've come to expect from a Billy Collins poem. They stand solidly on even ground, chiseled and unbreakable. Their phrasing is elegant, the humor is alive, and the speaker continues to stroll at his own pace through the plainness of American life.”The Daily Beast
“[Collins’s] poetry presents simple observations, which create a shared experience between Collins and his readers, while further revealing how he takes life’s everyday humdrum experiences and makes them vibrant.”—The Times Leader

Product details

  • Hardcover: 261 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (22 Oct 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679644059
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679644057
  • Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 2.4 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,822,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


The treat of treats. Unlike the wedding guest waylaid by Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, the reader emerges from encounters with Collins as a wiser and far happier person. (Geoff Dyer, Books of the Year New Statesman)

This collection of new and selected poetry is a perfect introduction for the reader . . . a wry, understated often dark humour emerges (Belfast Telegraph) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Billy Collins has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. A professor of English at Lehman College, he was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States for 2001 to 2003, and Poet Laureate of New York State from 2004 to 2006. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accessible poetry 22 Mar 2014
By Mye
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I had never heard of Billy Collins before this book was recommended to me and he is now my favourite contemporary poet. His poems encapsulate modern life and his way of looking at things resonate with a wide audience. I have picked out poems for colleagues who are not into poetry and they have quickly identified with the concept he so simply portrays through his eloquent but accessible use of language. A easy but thoughtful read
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  176 reviews
80 of 83 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Sweeping Look At Collins' Best... and Otherwise 5 Sep 2013
By Kevin L. Nenstiel - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins regularly reads to standing-room audiences, and reading his poems, it's not hard to see why. They reward multiple levels of interpretation, unpack hidden implications in seemingly undistinguished moments, and wink sly humor at playfully receptive readers. But there's a moment in this collection where a switch flips unexpectedly. This produces a book that starts strong, but ends on a surprisingly flat, tired-sounding note.

Collins' longtime readers know his familiar arc: an ordinary moment on an ordinary day triggers a Proustian connection, seemingly sudden but wholly consistent. Perhaps memory intrudes, or ruminations run wild--a quote from a writing text imbues a moment with unanticipated urgency, or an ancient photo in a modern building creates a discordance Collins can't easily reconcile. Sometimes he just starts thinking, and the results surprise even himself:

"Writing in the Afterlife"

I had heard about the journey to the other side
and the clink of the final coin
in the leather purse of the man holding the oar,
but how could anyone have guessed

that as soon as we arrived
we would be asked to describe the place
and to include as much detail as possible--
not just the water, he insists

rather the oily, fathomless, rat-happy water,
not simply the shackles, but the rusty,
iron, ankle-shredding shackles...

While scholarly poets vanish into themselves, equating incomprehensibility with depth, Collins recognizes who reads his work. The baker doesn't bake the bread he wants to bake, but the bread his customers need to eat. No wonder, in a crowded poetry market, readers seek Collins out.

Collins' poems have familiarity not in their outcomes, which persistently surprise even attentive readers. Rather, we relish the surprise as his words expose something distinctly novel in familiar circumstances. We anticipate being blindsided, and come to prognosticate: what will he do next? Thus he forces us to reexamine our own preconceptions, and turns us into poets ourselves. Could you have created "Divorce," which I quote in full:

Once, two spoons in bed,
now tined forks

across a granite table
and the knives they have hired.

Yes, I suspect you could have created it if, like Collins, you have practiced thinking like a poet. Collins challenges us to circumvent our learned limitations and see moments anew. At his best, Collins opens our eyes, guides us through the labyrinth of our own minds, and returns us to the start, enlightened and ready to bring his lessons in poetic insight into our regular life.

At his best. Sadly, like any of us, Billy Collins isn't always at his best.

This book suffers moving into the "New Poems" section. Compiled for the first time, these poems lack the muscular through-line that defines his prior sections, and meander episodically. This last section, running nearly ninety pages, percolates with such Hail Mary passes as (gasp!) poems about poets and poetry. Seriously. He has a villanelle, titled "Villanelle," about writing a villanelle. MFA instructors work assiduously to stop students doing that.

"Lines Written at Flying Point Beach"

or at least in the general vicinity
of Flying Point Beach,
certainly closer than I normally am

to that beach where the ocean
crests the dunes at high tide
spilling tons of new salt water into Mecox Bay,

and probably closer to Flying Point Beach
than you are right now
or I happen to be as you read this.

Not that he stops being good. Moments of insight penetrate, as in "Digging," about backyard artifacts unearthed, and histories imputed to them. But it becomes much harder to find such moments. Instead, he gives over to what many non-poetry readers disparage in contemporary poetry: formless prose broken into ragged, end-stopped lines. It reads like diary entries, like Collins stops pushing himself to that next level.

It pains me to say this about one of my heroes, but at 72, Collins may be getting tired. Poetry's heightened aesthetic, its language inviting multiple interpretations, its intensively layered themes, demand time and energy. And Collins, who maintains a teaching and reading schedule that would deplete much younger men, maybe can't dedicate himself to writing like he once could. That would explain these later poems' rushed feel.

I love Billy Collins, and I love most of this book. Like the best poets, when Collins succeeds, he could transform our world. But the more a poet risks, the bigger his potential disappointment. Let's just say, Collins writes more reliably than William Wordsworth; but if you read his work, recognize, not everything succeeds equally.
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Crackerjack Poems 22 Aug 2013
By B. Niedt - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
To me, a Billy Collins poem is like a box of Crackers Jacks: each has a familiar, "comfort food" flavor, but each also contains a little surprise by the end. I can't resist their ironic humor and plain-spoken style, and often they take me somewhere I didn't expect to land. This collection contains selections from his last four volumes of poetry, starting with Nine Horses, as well as 83 pages of new poems. Some believe that he "jumped the shark" with Nine Horses, but there are still some favorites to be found in these newer collected poems, like "Litany" and "The Lanyard". The brand-new poems have some gems as well, like the hilarious "Lesson for the Day" (in which he imagines Marianne Moore being run over by a steamroller!), "Here and There", and the moving 9/11 tribute "The Names". Collins is a still a master of the ars poetica, as evidenced by poems like "Drinking Alone" (the epigraph "after Li Po" is in itself enough to elicit a chuckle from any experienced poet); "Irish Poetry", and "The Suggestion Box". Collins has acquired a bad rap for being too "popular" and "accessible" over the years, but he deserves credit for his visibility, his entertaining "stand-up" reading style, and his projects like "Poetry 180", all of which have helped make poetry enjoyable again for the average American. And I, for one, don't mind reading a poet who doesn't make me work too hard, yet presents me with often unexpected, even profound, rewards.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting collection 2 Sep 2013
By J from NY - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Since the release of his collection "Nine Horses" and the massive success Billy Collins has engendered, perhaps no other poet I'm aware of (except for John Ashbery) has caused such a stir within the poetry community. Some detest him as being poetry lite, like Cool Whip for the soul, and others see him as an accessible voice in an otherwise cryptic and elitist field filled with frauds who hide behind non sequiturs. I am in the middle.

Genuinely engrossed by some of the poems in this collection ("Writing In the Afterlife") and not too excited or stimulated by others ("Foundling"), I think of Collins as a sort of everyman's poet who should be viewed as a primer for other sorts of poetry. Perhaps the best analogy: a warm, glowing anti-syllabus that is meant to push the reader forward. What I enjoy, sometimes, about his work is the simplicity:


Go, little book,
out of this house and into the world.

carriage made of paper rolling toward town
bearing a single passenger
beyond the reach of this jittery pen
and far from the desk and the nosy gooseneck lamp.

It is time to decamp,
put on a jacket and venture outside,
time to be regarded by other eyes,
bound to be held in foreign hands.

So off you go, infants of the brain,
with a wave and some bits of fatherly advice:

stay out as late as you like,
don't bother to call or write,
and talk to to as many strangers as you can."

While I won't say that this poem is going to change my life, I like it. It is sincere, has a certain purity to it, and the images come clear as some very thin air.
If you like what Collins does, you do. If you don't, you don't. I say, read it if you like it.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not aimless but calculated 7 Nov 2013
By Thomas F. Dillingham - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
It seems almost churlish to complain about Billy Collins's poetry; he works so hard to be ingratiating while maintaining the appearance of effortless composition. He is popular in several senses--among contemporary poets, "popular" meaning appealing to a large and varied audience, is a rare quality, and yet to all appearances, Collins has gained and maintained an uncommonly wide readership. To his fans and his critics, this is attributable to his approach to poetry--he writes what any reader would agree is "accessible" poetry--poems about chance encounters with familiar objects that prompt odd thoughts or responses, providing new perspectives or witty comments about the familiar; or recognitions of unfamiliar objects or experiences that somehow impinge on his consciousness and force him to reconsider the ways the new perceptions force rearrangements of the old and the familiar. The reader is treated to the shared recognition of that feeling of comfort and familiarity, or the feeling of oddness and possible shock, only to be reassured that the new fits with the old, if only through the exercise of some witty transformation or transition. And there is always wit. Perception and wit, clever verbal manipulations of ideas and feelings--what else could we want from poems?

Yet, the repetition of pretty much the same method -- a sharp perception or evocation, a clever move toward defamiliarizing, and comforting reversal returning us to the familiar -- many of the poems reproduce this pattern and suggest to the reader who is traversing many pages of Collins's poems that his work is better read in moderation, a few poems at a time, with long rests between.
This is because the patterns so often seem to be the only excuse for the poem. Collins depends on his sharp senses and his witty manipulation of words to keep the readers' attention while entertaining and reassuring them that they have enjoyed a good poem. That is often true, but "good" is about as much as one can say for them. They are well crafted, they amuse or entertain, on a very few occasions, they may prompt serious thought or deep feeling, but mostly they skim surfaces and allow easy exits.

Collins is very aware of these reservations from his critics. In this collection, we find several poems, a few from years back, a couple from the "new" section, wherein he comments on the "problems" with poetry and with being a poet. "The Suggestion Box," for example, is especially relevant. He humorously describes a day during which several people tell him that he "could write a poem about that." People who know he is a poet offer "subjects" for poems--a waitress spills coffee in his lap, there is a fire drill interrupting classes, he encounters a man with a face full of tattoos, and so on. He jokes that people expect him to write about quirky experiences, and he suggests to himself "Maybe I should write a poem/about all the people who think/they know what I should be writing poems about." And so the cute and witty turn--he is writing a poem about writing a poem in the context of readers' expectations. And that poem entertains, especially with its final image of a pair of ducks emerging from the water, in exactly the way the people expect. It also, to some extent, gets Collins off the hook, since he is acknowledging that there are some who think his poems are shallow while, simultaneously, and justifiably, claiming that there is a difference in depth and significance between his poems about objects and occasions and the triviality of the subjects offered by his readers--he is better than they think, he claims, and that is true.

In another such poem, "No Things," opens with a reference to "This love for everyday things," and mounts a defense of finding the poetic wonder in what another poet called "the stuff of what happens," while giving a backhand to the poets of "no," with Philip Larkin's name prominently displayed as a poet of everyday life who finds darkness, misery, even despair, in the elements of an ordinary day's encounters. Collins's ironic attack on poets who are always "banging away on the mystery" is both a pointed critique (sometimes the doomsayers can be as repetitive and seemingly mechanical in their poetic procedures and Collins is accused of being, but on the negative side) and a pointed self-defense--he values "the firefly,/the droplet running along the green leaf,/or even the bar of soap sliding around the bathtub" and implicitly refuses to be forced to see the dark sides of such images.

The ongoing battle in the American poetry business between the champions of the "accessible and audience-friendly poem" and those who insist that such work is mere versifying at best, kitsch at worst, and certainly not poetry, who assert the superior value of poems as language machines, deep images, surreal or dreamlike experiences (poems are not about anything), leaps of imagination, inspired nonsense, etc., continues and is unlikely to abate, though neither side can produce convincing arguments for the exclusive superiority of their preferred poetic modes. Collins is a high level practitioner of the charming and accessible poem that is both thoughtful and witty, even occasionally moving and enlightening. He is unlikely ever to be ranked with the great poets, because our aesthetic tends to value the dark and serious and probing over the light and charming and amusing. So be it.

As for this volume, it offers a generous selection of Collins's earlier poems and a similarly generous selection of previously uncollected poems. It seems to me to be an excellent introduction to his work for a new reader, a pleasant set of additions for anyone who already knows the earlier works. While there are several very strong poems among the new ones, there is little difference from his earlier work--which is perhaps his strength for those who like his work, though it probably also confirms the negatives for those who do not. The concluding poem in this volume, it must be said, is a departure--"The Names: (for the victims of September 11 and their survivors)" is an uncommonly serious poem--an expression of respect for the grief, the pain, the loss, carried forward as a kind of litany/catalogue of names linked with images of time passing, life ended and life going on. As it really had to be, this was and is an exceptional poem in Collins's body of work.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great poems from a great poet 18 Oct 2013
By USAF Veteran - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a collection of past poems and also a new set of poems by the well known American Poet, Billy Collins. Collins has twice been US Poet Laureate and he deserves that honor, in my opinion, because his poems are approachable and touching. He reminds me of a somewhat whimsical Robert Frost writing in prose.

American Poetry is being overwhelmed by bad poetry written by bad poets that seems to be meant only for other bad poets in college writing programs. Harsh though my judgment is, Collins would agree and he has agreed in any number of essays on 'What's wrong with American Poetry' that seem to be a popular essay subject in various literary and semi-literary magazines. In poetry, obscurity should never be confused with profundity.

Collins' poetry attempts to reverse that trend and does so. Whether Collins is describing his morning cup of coffee before sitting down to write or a seemingly mundane occurrence from going to town the day before, Collins portrays his subject clearly and deeply with a touch of humor. These are great poems. After reading a few, you can actually remember their subject and find yourself thinking about their themes. Try that with your average Modern American Poetry Anthology often based on some wacko political theory or cultural sub-grouping rather than being good or thoughtful.

As a poetry lover, nothing gets me more stimulated that arguing with another poetry lover what a "good" poem should be. None of us ever agree. Often my regard for Kipling or Service or Frost or Pessoa or Camoes will set whoever I am talking with laughing. When they try to convince me that some modern poet that is highly regarded but no one can even quote a single line from is profound, I laugh right back at them. So I really can't say if you will like these poems; all I can really say in the end is that I did like them and many others have too. 4 stars.
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