Top positive review
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sharp & accessible, but chock full of the unexpected
on April 5, 2011
Billy Collins has become such a poetic institution -- widely regarded as the most popular poet working today and known for his accessibility, as well as the enjoyability & lightness of his verse -- that it can be sometimes it be easy to forget that Billy Collins is a human being, a poet who is still exploring, experimenting and engaging.
In "Horoscopes for the Dead," these two Billy Collins -- the beloved poetic institution and still evolving writer -- are somersaulting all over each other.
For fans of iconic Billy Collins work, there is a lot to love in this collection. There are beautiful and clever pieces about house guests, beloved dogs, walks in the woods, poetry workshops and poetry readings, dinner parties, dinner guests and sometimes just dinners. You get the sense, as you may have in previous collections, that Collins is conspiring with you in some wonderful morning kitchen, and that you just happen to be the lucky recipient of his well-turned phrases and well-timed thoughts.
And yet, there are poems in here that are likely to surprise.
In this collection -- even more so than his last, "Ballistics" -- Collins seems fixated on the darker elements of life. While "Ballistics" explored the shadows of heartbreak, "Horoscopes for the Dead" seems to intent on meeting mortality in its eyes. In pieces like the book's first poem, "Grave" -- in which finds Collins laying down on the graves of his parents, hoping to communicate with them in some way -- to the book's title poem -- where the absurdity of horoscopes is juxtaposed with a longing for passed friends -- Collins seems to find himself musing about death in a variety of ways. Even the death of marriage, which he describes as a "the department of lost husbands / or sometimes, as now, the department of dark and pouring rain."
But this collection also finds Collins lost in lust, snapping with stubbornness, itchy with frustration, and there is even a poem recalling his first acid trip -- all things that perhaps aren't associated with iconic Collins poetry. But to me, that's a good thing, a healthy sign for any poet that he can still delight and surprise, that he isn't letting his poetry be dictated by what his audience might want, but instead by what he wants to share, the darkness and the light.
I am happy to add "Horoscopes for the Dead" to my collection of Collins books, and selfishly & eagerly await his next one as well.