Nine Horses, Billy Collins’s first book of new poems since Picnic, Lightning in 1998, is the latest curve in the phenomenal trajectory of this poet’s career. Already in his forties when he debuted with a full-length book, The Apple That Astonished Paris, Collins has become the first poet since Robert Frost to combine high critical acclaim with broad popular appeal. And, as if to crown this success, he was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States for 2001–2002, and reappointed for 2002–2003.
What accounts for this remarkable achievement is the poems themselves, quiet meditations grounded in everyday life that ascend effortlessly into eye-opening imaginative realms. These new poems, in which Collins continues his delicate negotiations between the clear and the mysterious, the comic and the elegiac, are sure to sustain and increase his audience of avid readers.
In Nine Horses, Billy Collins, U.S. poet laureate and author of the bestselling collection Sailing Alone Around the Room, attempts to find beauty in simplicity, but ends up achieving the simply banal. Some poems, such as "Rooms" and "Obituaries," in which readers are given freedom to draw their own conclusions, are memorable, but the language in Nine Horses has little music and thoughts are plainly stated. Animals (mostly mice and little birds) populate this sentimental journey, and they are nearly always personified, resulting in poems that sometimes read like the verse equivalent of a Thomas Kinkade print. Collins's use of the vernacular can be burdensome ("and you are certainly not the pine-scented air. / There is no way you are the pine-scented air"), but some readers may find comfort (a haven perhaps) in the author's warm, safe world. Billy Collins has become an immensely popular poet, and though Nine Horses may remain less than inspiring, its poems are certain not to offend. --Michael Ferch