Friday, July 31, 2009

Book Review: Ballistics (Poems) by Billy Collins

Ballistics (Poems), by Billy Collins

With Billy Collins' eighth collection of poetry comes a bit of a departure from his previous works. To be sure, Billy Collins fans (of which I am one) will find this collection to be demonstrative of his signature style. However, there is an element of Ballistics that seems a bit deeper and a little more dark than we are typically accustomed to from our former Poet Laureate.

Other reviewers (see links at end of this post) who are much more well-read in poetry than I am, have also commented on this feeling, so I was glad to see it wasn't just me being my hyper-critical self. Ballistics does tend to leave the reader slightly disappointed, I have to say. Maybe it's because, while these poems still remain true to Collins' format of being ones that the ordinary person can understand and relate to, there are more than a few that require a second reading (or third) to fully understand and appreciate its meaning. Maybe we're not used to working that hard with a Billy Collins' poem. Regardless, it's not necessarily a bad thing ... it's just different.

There are also several poems set in European locales that, I think, would perhaps resonate more if one had travelled to those (or similar) places. I have not, and I think that could have contributed to my difficulty with those particular poems. That's more of a deficiency with me, personally, though, not necessarily the poem itself.

Still, there are several poems in Ballistics that are the stuff of the Billy Collins that I adore, like "Divorce."

Once, two spoons in bed,
now tined forks
across a granite table
and the knives they have hired.

See? That's vintage Collins and sheer poetic genius, in my humble opinion. With 18 words about utensils (and so much more), this reader thinks, "That is brilliant to equate silverware with the facets of a marriage and divorce proceedings." It speaks so much in these four lines - how many meals this couple may have shared, was their first date in a restaurant?, the symbolism represented by the unnamed food itself, the nourishment of the relationship (now cleared away), or even the breadbasket that would have been on a restaurant table, now substituted for the money that will be invoiced from the divorce attorneys.

Here's another that I liked (because I'm kind of morbid):

On the Death of a Next-Door Neighbor
So much younger and with a tall, young son
in the house above ours on a hill,
it seemed that death had blundered once again.

Was it poor directions, the blurring rain,
or the too-small numerals on the mailbox
that sent his dark car up the wrong winding driveway?

Surely, it was me he was looking for -
overripe, childless, gaudy with appetite,
the one who should be ghosting over the rooftops

not standing barefooted in this kitchen
on a sun-shot October morning
after eight days and nights of downpour

me with my presumptuous breathing,
my arrogant need for coffee,
my love of the colorful leaves beyond the windows.

The weight of my clothes, not his,
might be hanging in the darkness of a closet today,
my rake idle, my pen across a notebook.

The harmony of this house, not his,
might be missing a voice,
the hallways jumpy with the cry of the telephone -

if only death had consulted his cracked leather map,
then bent to wipe the fog
from the windshield with an empty sleeve.

For people who have not read Billy Collins' previous work, Ballistics is not necessarily the collection I would recommend starting with. It is one that fans of Collins would find elements of enjoyment, albeit with a different perspective than most of his previous work.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Here's what some other bloggers had to say ....

Amy from The English Geek (a new blog to me that I am really enjoying!)
Life on the Periphery

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love Billy Collins. And I also love this collection.