Jazz and Dogs and Rain: Billy Collins’ Poetry
I finished several Billy Collins books in the last few days.
481) Picnic, Lightning by Billy Collins (1998, hard copy)
483) Sailing around in the Room by Billy Collins (2002, hard copy)
484) Nine Horses by Billy Collins (2002, hard copy)
Because I don’t tend to see differences between his books of poems, I’ll discuss them as a group. First, note that Sailing around the Room includes a slice of The Apple That Astonished Paris (his first book of poems – I have not read it), Questions About Angels, The Art of Drowning, and Picnic, Lightning. It also includes some new poems at the end. Because I had read or was going to read poems from three of those books, I stuck to the beginning and end ones.
What I can see from reading five of his books in the last few weeks are themes. Dogs, music (classical, jazz), weather, life, death, and nature come up again and again. (It made me think it would be fun to have a poetry/fiction game where you list five words associated with a writer’s work and people have to guess them – I think that dogs, jazz, and weather might suffice for Collins.)
He explained somewhere that, like many poets, he tends to take something ordinary and then use it as an entrance point for something much bigger. And many of his poems have a bit of a twist and/or humor. I find lots of them very funny. Most of them are moving and poignant. Nearly all of them draw me through to keep going – reading more and more of them.
I have a CD with him reading some of his work and I think it includes one of my favorites – this is a poem beloved by many and one of his most famous. I used to have it memorized – you read it here and you can see people’s adaptations of it on YouTube. (listening to this video in the background while I type this drove my dogs CRAZY so lock them up before you watch it – or it will become really post-modern really quickly)
Another Reason I don’t Keep A Gun In The House (from The Apple that Astonished Paris, 1988)
The neighbor’s dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.
and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for a barking dog.
I love Collins. I enjoy reading his poems and they often bring me to the point of astonishment or relationship – he raises questions and brings attention to everyday things in a delightful manner that enriches them. I find his work accessible, yet literary and provocative. I’ve not been a reader of poetry although I do have my little poetry shelf. Taking advantage of April’s National Poetry Month has motivated me to actually sit down and systematically read them. Collins has been an excellent entry point for me.
His work is not without controversy. A quick google search shows this with a series of negative reviews of his work from major media. I gather that he isn’t a poet’s poet. Some of this may be his success and the “sell-out” label accessible artists and scientists tend to receive when they make something frequently difficult easier to enter. Some of it may be warranted – I’ve read reviews that discussed some examples of his poems and they were right, they were definitely minor poems focused on some small way of thinking differently about something.
But when it’s all said and done, I (and an awful lot of other people – he is the best selling poet in America) enjoy his work very much. He’s gotten me excited about poetry and eager to seek out and read more. And that’s a very good thing!
Sunny and Warm Today
Happy reading, Ruby