Friday, March 31, 2006

50 Verses

I'm a big believer in the value of buying books, used or new. And I'm a consummate impulse book buyer. In fact, I have to rein myself in, I buy so many books with little or no provocation. But when it comes to poetry books, I drop the reins. I think that one cannot buy too many books of poetry -- and that buying them is in fact a form of public service. So when my friend in Austin -- Amy -- mentioned that she was particularly fond of the poet Billy Collins, our poet laureate from 2001-2003, and pointed out the poem "Litany" in the collection Nine Horses, I snapped up the collection with all due haste.

Collins is a wonderful poet, one who uses simple words and simple images to communicate complex emotions and ideas. His work lacks pretension and is extremely human -- and humane. Of the 50 poems collected in this paperback, I am particularly fond of "Aimless Love," "Litany," and "No Time." While he works in everyday references to the culture of his time and life -- the book inspired this blog entry, which was taken from my notes in the back of the book -- his poems don't feel overly current and may very well be timeless.

What strikes me in my favorite poems? Collins' love of the basic and simple -- the things we see every day but might not recognize or elevate otherwise -- and his consideration of the lines between life and death. He also offers several verses about poetry, writing, and the writing life -- without becoming heavy handed or overly romantic about the use of words.

If you haven't read Collins before, start with "Litany." It's an amazing read. And if you aren't familiar with our current poet laureate -- Ted Kooser -- get thee to a bookstore, perhaps the recently bought Grolier Poetry Book Shope in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and drop some dime.

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