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The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems Paperback – March 13, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Two years after his very visible stint as U.S. poet laureate, Collins (Sailing Alone Around the Room) remains one of the nation's most popular poets. His light touch, his self-deprecating pathos and his unerring sense of his audience (nothing too difficult, but nothing too lowbrow) explain much of that popularity and remain evident in this eighth collection. "The birds are in their trees,/ the toast is in the toaster,/ and the poets are at their windows," the volume begins: the poet as sensitive everyman, moved if not baffled by literary legacies, and attracted to simple pleasures, constructs a series of similar days and scenes. "In the Moment" depicts "a day in June," "the kind that gives you no choice/ but to unbutton your shirt/ and sit outside in a rough wooden chair"; "I Ask You" opens on "an ordinary night at the kitchen table." Collins's comic gifts are also much in evidence: "Special Glasses" describes spectacles that "filter out the harmful sight of you"; "The Introduction" makes fun of footnotes and obscurities in other poets' poems. The dominant note, however, is a gentle sadness, accomplished with care and skill, sometimes (as in "The Lanyard") garnished by autobiographical wisdom. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Collins is one of the most popular and most disarming of poets. He draws you close with his swinging lines, twirling metaphors, homey imagery, and coy self-deprecation. But he is as likely to be hiding a cudgel behind his back as a bouquet of flowers. How fitting it is that in "Theme," a suavely disconsolate poem, he tips his hat to Cole Porter and the great composer's "put-on nonchalance." Porter's wry and clever style is Collins' style, too, and he uses it with mastery and purpose in easily consumed and devastatingly funny poems in which he shares his discernment of the wonder and torment of life, the terror and banality of death. In meditative poems blissfully free of labored allusions, Collins detects the metaphysical dimension of a hot shower or a glass of iced tea, even as he writes candidly about how difficult it is to control the unruly mind. Skeptical of love and scornful of pretension, Collins is breathtaking in his appreciation of the earth's beauty and the precious daily routines that define life. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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There are a number of excellent verses in this book. Among the best are "Traveling Alone," "I Ask You," "Breathless," "The Introduction," and the title poem, "The Trouble with Poetry." But my favorite one in this collection is "The Lanyard." In this one, the poet comes across the word "lanyard" while browsing in the dictionary and this takes him back to when he made a lanyard for his mother at summer camp. This takes him to the heart of the poem, where the poet considers a boy's unequal relationship with his mother-- "She gave me life and milk from her breasts,/and I gave her a lanyard." He goes on in this incisive vein for awhile before finishing with an adult's understanding of a boy's foolishness. Not "that you can never repay your mother" but that, as a boy, he was sure the lanyard "would be enough to make us even." This is an insightful, moving poem.
Of course, when you deal with simple language and images, as Collins does, when you miss, you miss hard. There are plenty of poems in this book that don't do much for me but Collins remains consistent in his style which makes them easy enough to get through. I have yet to read a volume of poetry that hits the mark 100% of the time. Still, Collins hits the mark often enough to make me wait impatiently for each new collection.
Honestly the quality is so bad I thought it had been self published. Imagine my suprise when I turned it over and saw that it's a Random House publication. Didn't stop them charging full price though. I hope Mr Collins is at least getting a good cut, cause they're not spending it on printing.
"The Lanyard"--ah, those lanyards we make at camp! And then the debt of love and gratitude we owe our mothers, the astonishing jaw-dropping moment of this one!
"Reaper"--the chilling encounter with a real human being who, inescapably, resembles the grim reaper. My students were delighted at realizing the allusion to "Appointment in Samarra," which we had read earlier in semester!
"Constellations"--a look at the night sky, that leapt into my head last night, gazing up at a full moon in a clear midwestern sky, recognizing Orion, as the speaker of this poem does, and recalling the delightful imaginative twist at the end. I stood there wanting to make up my own constellations, too, but it was too cold...so I went inside.
"The Trouble with Poetry"--of course! The title poem, with its joy and sorrow and devilish humor, suggesting that the trouble with poetry is that it encourages the writing of more poetry, etc.! The theft issue that students of poetry have to grapple with is presented humorously here, and also a way to "cite" theft so it isn't theft after all. Again, this one manages to end on both a humorous and sobering note, and one about the making of a real poet from a Ferlinghetti fan of a high school boy!
This is a wonderful book, no trouble at all to read, straight through, for its marvelous progression, and then go back to, poem by poem, for joy.