Winner of the 1999 Paterson Poetry Prize
Over the past decade, Billy Collins has emerged as the most beloved American poet since Robert Frost, garnering critical acclaim and broad popular appeal. Annie Proulx admits, "I have never before felt possessive about a poet, but I am fiercely glad that Billy Collins is ours." John Updike proclaims his poems "consistently startling, more serious than they seem, they describe all the worlds that are and were and some others besides."
This special, limited edition celebrates Billy Collins's years as U.S. Poet Laureate. Picnic, Lightning--one of the books that helped establish and secure his reputation and popularity during the 1990s--combines humor and seriousness, wit and sublimity. His poems touch on a wide range of subjects, from jazz to death, from weather to sex, but share common ground where the mind and heart can meet. Whether reading him for the first time or the fiftieth, this collector's edition is a must-have for anyone interested in the poet the New York Times calls simply "the real thing."
In these playful, conversational poems, Billy Collins immerses us in the minutiae of a life--cow viewing, parsley chopping, "buzzing around on espresso"--and restores a sense of wonder. In a voice half confessional, half avuncular, he takes us by the hand and shares his deepest secrets. Whether shoveling snow with the Buddha, releasing Emily Dickinson from her corsets, spoofing Auden and Wordsworth, or putting words in the mouths of Victoria's Secret models ("So what if I am wearing nothing / but this stretch panne velvet bodysuit ... Do you have a problem with that?!"), Collins is a pure delight. In one of several poems in which jazz figures prominently, he amusingly considers well-known but ne'er-acknowledged facial expressions such as "the languorous droop," "pained concentration," and "existential bemusement." Similarly, in "Marginalia" he caps off a list of scribblings with a pointed request for all to step forward who "have managed to graduate from college / without ever having written 'Man vs. Nature'" in a margin.
Though there is plenty to make us laugh, Collins is more than a mere comic genius. On the contrary, he balances the ribald with the poignant, the over-the-top with the serenely beautiful:
And the soul is up on the roof
in her nightdress, straddling the ridge,
singing a song about the wildness of the sea
until the first rip of pink appears in the sky.
Then, they all will return to the sleeping body
the way a flock of birds settles back into a tree...
In the opening poem ("A Portrait of the Reader with a Bowl of Cereal"), Collins defies William Butler Yeats's advice to "never speak directly, / as to someone at the breakfast table." Instead, he promises to "lean forward, / elbows on the table, / with something to tell you." One hundred pages later, we thank him for a promise kept. --Martha Silano