From Publishers Weekly
The 1990s belonged to Billy Collins in the same way that the 1980s belonged to Robert Fulghum (All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten). Collins's gently ironic, gently elegiac work--the mirror image of, say, Jonathan Franzen's suburban delvings--has slowly constructed a pitch-perfect purgatory, and this death-themed ninth collection seems to want to make it as literal as possible: it opens as the speaker stands "before the joined grave of my parents" and asks, "What do you think of my new glasses?" In a poem titled "Hell," the speaker has "a feeling that is much worse/ than shopping for a mattress in a mall,// of greater duration without question,/ and there is no random pitchforking here,/ no licking flames to fear,/ only this cavernous store with its maze of bedding." That this feeling is never quite articulated over the course of 50-odd poems is not to its detriment: despite the prosaic settings and everyday language, Collins is after the big questions: of life, death, and how to live. But the world is not of his making, and his is a temperament oddly suited to a world where "the correct answer" to questions like why the stars appear as they do, strike "not like a bolt of lightning/ but more like a heavy bolt of cloth." (Mar.)
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Collins writes of time and death with humor and whirligig images and wordplay so unexpected and delectable, reading his poetry is like watching a magician transform ordinary objects�a coin, a card�into something breathtaking out of thin air. Collins likes to focus on small, unobtrusive beings like a mouse or a squirrel and informs us that he is the tortoise, not the hare. He steals an hour to walk up a hill and sit on a �rock the size of a car,� which he then imagines �once moved along / in the monstrous glacial traffic of the ice age.� The poet loves his dog�s �long smile,� and thinks of Dante in a �cavernous� mattress store. In this piquant collection�s hilarious and sweet title poem, Collins riffs on newspaper horoscopes and bemused memories of his beloved dead. A hangover inspires misanthropy, while everyday heartbreaks lead to droll confessions. Including thoughts on his �true vocation,� which is �keeping an eye on things / whether they existed or not, / recumbent under the random stars.� Collins rules as a charming master of mischievous wisdom. --Donna Seaman