Yesterday I bought Billy Collins's newest book. He is one of my favorite contemporary poets, but I cannot recommend horoscopes for the dead. Only two of the poems, "Grave," and "Memento Mori" are worth mentioning. Most of the poems read like rough drafts or random journal entries. Many of the lines are wordy, unspecific, and just dull. Where is Collins's zest for the word? I found myself asking "so what?" as I read through them. For example, in the poem "Straightener," Collins writes about his penchant for straightening objects. He takes us through a list of things he likes to straighten, and the order in which he uses them. As he describes his parents' photogragh the reader hopes Collins will give us the kind of snapshot he did in his earlier masterpiece "The Lanyard, but this poem just continues listing more objects. If you or I had offered this selection up for publication, the rejection letters would paper a wall. But like his other books, this one will sell, too because of WHO he is. I just hope in a hundred years if aliens visit our planet and find only this from Collins's collection they don't scratch their antennae and and mutter to one another," THIS guy was a poet laureate?"
I COULD put this book in my giveaway contest, but I think the recipient would be disappointed.
Exercise: Imagine you are a strnger coming upon a colection of your poems. Read them, and see if you can answer the "so what?" question. How will a reader be moved after reading your work? Yes, poems are about seemingly small things, yet what underlies them is a universal truth. That BIG TRUTH reminds us we are alive.