I hope this isn’t taken the wrong way, but Collins is to poetry what J.K. Rowling is to the novel. By that, I only mean that his poems are as popular as poetry can be these days because they are readable, avoid needless complications, give challenge to pretentiousness, and are just plain entertaining. Collins combines dry humor, surreal elements, and profound observations to make poems that readers can either readily relate to or find hilarity in. While he does touch on traditional poetic topics like love and nature, he spends more time on language, quirkiness in everyday life, and poetry itself.
This book combines a collection of 51 new poems with “greatest hits” selections from Collins’s previous four collections: NINE HORSES (22 poems), THE TROUBLE WITH POETRY (16 poems), BALLISTICS (29 poems), and HOROSCOPES FOR THE DEAD (24 poems.)
The opening poem, from NINE HORSES and entitled “The Country,” displays typical Collins humor as it takes a parent’s warning to not leave strike-anywhere matches out and about because mice might start a fire, and brings it to its absurd conclusion by showing it. Odd little thoughts that flicker into and out of consciousness are a mainstay for Collins, and he wrings the full wit from them. “Litany” may be my favorite poem from the NINE HORSES selection. It takes the standard poetic tool of metaphor and shows the silliness that can result when it’s employed without context.
The selections from THE TROUBLE WITH POETRY include intriguing reflections on particular words. Examining the personal meanings of words as well as the meanings words migrate into is a common subject for Collins. This can be seen in poems like “Lanyard” and “Genius.” However, while those poems — as well as the titular poem — are enjoyable, the most hilarious is “The Revenant.” This poem turns the sanctity of the mutual bond of man and man’s best friend on its head as it imagines if a dog could tell its master its true feelings.
In BALLISTICS we see several examples of another recurring approach used by Collins and that is the use of a quote as the premise of a poem. “Tension” is among the funniest of these in which some advice to writers about the risks of using the word “suddenly” is put to the test. My favorite from this section may have been “Old Man Eating Alone in a Chinese Restaurant” in which Collins admits he’s glad that he avoided that old chestnut as a young poet because now he’s said old man.
In HOROSCOPES FOR THE DEAD we see a few poems (in addition to the titular one) that concern themselves with mortality, including a whimsical ride through a cemetery on a bike – “Cemetery Ride.” However, “Table Talk” is among my favorites for the joy it takes in mocking pretentiousness. In the poem, an individual brings up Zeno’s most famous paradox, suggesting no arrow should ever hit its target because it always has to halve the remaining distance – and, thus, should remain forever at bay.
Among the new poems, “To My Favorite 17-Year-Old High School Girl,” is among the funniest and is most certainly the one with the most general appeal to readers. In it, we see a father celebrate his daughter, but with no shortage of backhanded compliments as he compares her to other teenagers who were more productive, brilliant, or at least more helpful around the house.
I found this collection to be immensely enjoyable and I’d recommend it for anyone. Even if you aren’t a poetry reader, you may find this collection makes you one.