on 29 July 2009
If you already know Billy Collins's work, then you won't be disappointed by Ballistics. I've read most of his published poetry to date, but have read it as a poetaster rather than as a literary critic. So I'm not getting down to heavy criticism here, I'm just saying that it has his characteristic voice you'll have come to know and love if you are one of his regular readers. While his work is ruminative it also has warmth and particularly humour. There is a gentle, playful, teasing that goes on in his work. It helps to have a fairly literary or artistic background to read him, since he is a very educated poet. But it's not essential, I'd reckon, as one of his key characteristics is his ease of access. The poems have an inviting surface clarity. You won't bounce off the surface of an impenetrable text when you're reading him, as with some modern poetries. His lexicon and syntax make his poems initially open to all or most readers. So you feel you "understand" the poem on first acquaintance. But don't be fooled. Many of these poems are much cleverer, more intelligent, playfully witty, than you might first think. Don't be put off by that suggestion. Just read the poems and see. Reading Billy Collins is like eating ice-cream. You just keep wanting more.
on 27 February 2011
Like American cuisine, at his worst he can be cloying; but at his best there is no-one more enchanting. A modern-day Frost - the Frostean twinkle without the chill - with a touch of Sandburgian naivete [I think I may just have invented two new words there] and, OK, a glaze of spiritual fuzziness; let's say, a cross between Garrison Keillor and the Buddha. One may prefer the even older Ron Koertge or Ed Field (Collins is older than you think) and I do, but when were accessibility and popularity ever to be deprecated in a poet? Deprecate: now there's a word that rarely gets an outing these days. All too rarely? Possibly not. Still, a warm welcome, deprecate (as it blinks shyly).
Critics can have problems probing the Collinsonian depths; I couldn't resist the Publishers Weekly reviewer of the 2001 Selected who opined 'Collins's poems are generally conveyed by a speaker whose genial, highly literate analogue of earnestness perfectly produces inchoate quotidian restlessness matched by fear-based appreciation of the mundane.' (Genial certainly gets it right; but a literate poet - 'highly' even? surely not!?!) It's my belief the good critic was simply stumped, at a loss to know what to say about poetry so guileless and without opacity; but with Collins, unlike more venturesome, foolhardy or plain pretentious writers, what you see is less than what you get. A welcome antidote (rebuke even) to the vast, stomach-churning Ashbery industry; and how not love the mischievous onlie begetter of the paradelle?
NB Field and Koertge are eqally accessible (and genial) - try 'em!
on 27 January 2013
No wonder Billy Collins is the USA's best loved poet. No bleeding heart romantic, no metaphysical rubbish, just good poetry, seeing the odd and unusual in everyday experiences! Favourite poems are probably 'Ornithography' and the 'Idea of Natural History at Key West'. Unfortunately only 110 pages long, but worth every penny, am now reading it again. Try 'Horoscopes for the dead' and 'Questions about angels' which are equally as good
on 25 June 2011
All that you would expect from Billy Collins: urbane and witty. He writes his poems from (to quote himself in 'August in Paris') a droll angle. Very droll indeed. You never come away from reading a poem of his feeling disappointed, or feeling you've been done. He seems to take quite an innocuous beginning sentence and see how far he can 'run' with it - fortunately for us, he's a marathon man!