From the Publisher
“A poet of plentitude, irony, and Augustan grace.”
—The New Yorker
“A sort of poet not seen since Robert Frost.”
—The Boston Globe
“It is difficult not to be charmed by Collins, and that in itself is a remarkable literary accomplishment.”
—The New York Review of Books
“One appeal of the typical Collins poem is that it’s less able to help you memorize it than to help you remember,
for a little while anyway, your own life.”
—The New York Times Book Review
American Poet Laureate (2001-3) Collins is justly celebrated for the beguiling simplicity of his style and the depth he can reach with poems that are remarkably accessible for a huge range of reading tastes and skills. This latest collection is no exception. It's handsome and slim, designed with large type and soothing white space, inviting to hold in the hand, too. If there's one good poet writing today that can turn YAs on to poetry, it is Billy Collins. KLIATT Codes: SA*-Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Random House, 120p., Ages 15 to adult.
Read an Excerpt
I wondered about you when you told me never to leave a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches lying around the house because the mice
might get into them and start a fire.
But your face was absolutely straight when you twisted the lid down on the round tin where the matches, you said, are always stowed.
Who could sleep that night?
Who could whisk away the thought of the one unlikely mouse padding along a cold water pipe
behind the floral wallpaper gripping a single wooden match between the needles of his teeth?
Who could not see him rounding a corner,
the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam,
the sudden flare, and the creature for one bright, shining moment suddenly thrust ahead of his time—
now a fire-starter, now a torchbearer in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid illuminating some ancient night.
Who could fail to notice,
lit up in the blazing insulation,
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces of his fellow mice, onetime inhabitants of what once was your house in the country?
In the club car that morning I had my notebook open on my lap and my pen uncapped,
looking every inch the writer right down to the little writer’s frown on my face,
but there was nothing to write about except life and death and the low warning sound of the train whistle.
I did not want to write about the scenery that was flashing past, cows spread over a pasture,
hay rolled up meticulously—
things you see once and will never see again.
But I kept my pen moving by drawing over and over again the face of a motorcyclist in profile—
for no reason I can think of—
a biker with sunglasses and a weak chin,
leaning forward, helmetless,
his long thin hair trailing behind him in the wind.
I also drew many lines to indicate speed,
to show the air becoming visible as it broke over the biker’s face
the way it was breaking over the face of the locomotive that was pulling me toward Omaha and whatever lay beyond Omaha for me and all the other stops to make
before the time would arrive to stop for good.
We must always look at things from the point of view of eternity,
the college theologians used to insist,
from which, I imagine, we would all appear to have speed lines trailing behind us as we rush along the road of the world,
as we rush down the long tunnel of time—
the biker, of course, drunk on the wind,
but also the man reading by a fire,
speed lines coming off his shoulders and his book,
and the woman standing on a beach studying the curve of horizon,
even the child asleep on a summer night,
speed lines flying from the posters of her bed,
from the white tips of the pillowcases,
and from the edges of her perfectly motionless body.