Billy Collins is a poet who is successful and popular—a rare thing in the world of poets and poems in America. The author of 10 collections of poetry, Collins was poet laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003 and of New York State from 2004 to 2006. And this past summer, he substituted for Garrison Keillor on National Public Radio’s program “The Writer’s Almanac.”
Today, he’s publishing Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems. It’s everything a Billy Collins collection of poetry should be, and more: funny, droll, surprising, penetrating, self-deprecating, unexpected. And stories—Collins is always offering stories in his poetry.
Take one of the new poems in the collection. First ask yourself whether you ever expected to read a poem about Cheerios.
One bright morning in a restaurant in Chicago
as I waited for my eggs and toast,
I opened the Tribune only to discover
that I was the same age as Cheerios.
Indeed, I was a few months older than Cheerios
for today, the newspaper announced,
was the seventieth birthday of Cheerios
whereas mine had occurred earlier in the year.
Already I could hear the whispering
behind my stooped and threadbare back,
Why that dude’s older than Cheerios
the way they used to say
Why that’s as old as the hills,
only the hills are much older than Cheerios
or any American breakfast cereal,
and more noble and enduring are the hills,
I surmised as a bar of sunlight illuminated my orange juice.
“Cheerios” is a story, a story that begins at breakfast in a restaurant. It becomes a reflection on age and aging, and then changes again to a short understanding of creation versus created (“only the hills are much older than Cheerios”) before unexpectedly returning to breakfast. After all, we can’t really do much about aging, so we might as well note our place in the grand historical scheme of things and remember our orange juice. You can almost see Collins shrug.
The selected poems in Aimless Love come from four previous collections: Nine Horses, The Trouble with Poetry, Ballistics (a personal favorite), and Horoscopes for the Dead. The new poems comprise about a third of the volume and cover such subjects as Lincoln, Central Park, Dvorak, Keats, Irish poetry, drinking alone, a Sunday walk, and an airline flight. Collins does what poets do—he finds poetry everywhere he looks, and, like life, it is often funny. But despite the humor, he always writes with an underlying seriousness, like in “Cheerios, ” a poem about aging, acceptance, and breakfast.
Well, breakfast is serious, most of the time. Isn’t it?
Aimless Love is a welcome addition to the poetry of Billy Collins.
Biography at the Poetry Foundation
Collins describes the animation of five of his poems at TED.
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