Billy Collins might be my favorite poet, though I do also like Ted Kooser very much. Collins is contemporary, and I usually understand him. He is often funny and has a vivid imagination. He is always surprising me with wild thoughts that I have never had. From 2001 to 2003, he was Poet Laureate of the United States, and he is now the poet laureate for the state of New York. I have read several of his collections: Art of Downing, Nine Horses, Picnic, Lightning, Questions About Angels, and Sailing Alone Around the Room.
I was very glad to get my hands on his latest collection, The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems. In it are 43 lively poems, most of which are one or two pages long. The collection begins with an engaging poem "You, Reader," in which the poet speaks directly to us, teasing us:
I wonder how you are going to feel
when you find out
that I wrote this instead of you
that it was I who got up early
to sit in the kitchen
and mention with a pen
the rain soaked windows,
the ivy wallpaper,
and the goldfish circling in its bowl.
Collins poems are often reactions to what he has seen, heard, or read. Upon learning that each Gutenberg Bible required 300 sheepskins, he wrote "Flock," in which all 300 sheep are penned together behind the house with the printing press. He wonders which ram or ewe will get to carry the news "The Lord is my shepherd."
Waking up in a house built in 1862, he wrote "House," a poem about all the people who had lived there, imagining what they did in each room. It is kind of spooky.
I laughed aloud while reading "Special Glasses," a spiteful poem, filled with scorn of some one:
but instead of filtering out the harmful
rays of the sun,
they filter out the harmful sight of you -
you on the approach,
you waiting at my bus stop,
you, face in the evening window.
I also like "See No Evil," "Class Picture, 1954," "Flying Notebook," and many other poems in the collection. You might, too. April is National Poetry Month. If you read only one poetry book during that month, The Trouble with Poetry would be a good choice. Reserve it now.
Collins, Billy. The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems. New York: Random House 2005. ISBN 037550382x