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Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems
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Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  2,481 ratings  ·  284 reviews



Billy Collins is widely acknowledged as a prominent player at the table of modern American poetry. And in this smart, lyrical, and mischievous collection of poetry, which covers the everlasting themes of love and loss, youth and aging, solitude an
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Published April 26th 2011 by Random House (first published January 1st 2011)
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Horoscopes for the Dead is another
in the somewhat long line of Billy Collins'
collections of poetry, and is of the same
kind as the rest; that is to say,

filled with his cold warmth, the distance
that comes from believing oneself just a little
smarter than everyone else in the room, a bit
cleverer with words, deeper in feeling,

and having a slightly more meaningful
insight into living than his reader.
On page 27. I took a nap and, when I woke, noticed that I'd been dreaming in Billy-speak. . . .

There are several good poems here. Much to admire for sure. And there are some not-so-good poems here. Scratch head. Turn page. It makes you wonder if everything he writes, good or bad, goes into the book.

He's self-deprecating and likable, witty, and sometimes humorous. But sometimes I feel as though the attempts at humor are strained or stretched too thin. Collins always seems to be caught up in a da
Billy Collins is one of my favorite poets for a multitude of reasons, notably for me - he has such an economy with words, using them in a way that evokes a wide range of emotions for each measure he takes on. He can be humored, but at the same time depict grief and coming to terms poignantly with each line. I think I credit my discovery of his work through my college studies, even dating as far back as his release of "Nine Horses" and then backtracking through his individual books from there.

I f
I never tire of Billy Collins, especially when I just want a poem that makes sense, sounds beautiful when read aloud, is precise in its attention to detail, and connects to my soul. This book delivers.

I'm not sure if it's kosher to copy the text of a poem in its entirety and post it on Goodreads, but until Mr. Collins asks for it to be removed, here is one of my favorites called "Good News."

Good News

When the news came in over the phone
that you did not have cancer, as they first thought,

I was in
I try to find poets I like who pick dirt from their fingernails and compare it with the moon. I read of despair and myth and omens in the middle atmosphere. But I blink and am less than ambitions about finishing another line - much less going on to poem number two. I would never even consider reading the poem aloud to the Christmas meeting of my book group. But Billy. Sweet balding Billy. I can always find a poem that makes me smile. And then .... wait a minute ... there is some hint of the scen ...more
(A review I wrote for the University of Missouri's "Maneater")

Obtain equal parts Dane Cook and Thomas Hardy. Blend well. Publish. Yields: 51 Billy Collins poems.

A poet unrivaled in sarcastic wit and candor, Collins is the perfect antidote to English 2100 and up. Those jaded by Longfellow and Frost may be tempted to throw in the towel as the semester winds to a close, but Collins offers a fresh take on his chosen form of expression: the poem.

In Collins’ straightforward work, no theme lies buried
Kirsty Hughes
3 stars, because that means I liked it. Read this collection in one sitting, mainly because I had to for school. Collins is a great writer, writing about regular people and regular lives. His poetry is relatable, sad, and sometimes humorous.
Peter Derk
I have a hard time reviewing poetry. Every collection, it'll have a few you love, a few you hate, and a bunch you won't remember. It's the most horrible thing I can think to say about something that someone pours their heart into. Imagine someone saying this about his three children. I love the one, the other one I hate, and the middle one I barely even remember.

I'll include a favorite here. Maybe that will help anyone on the fence make a decision.

Drawing You From Memory

I seem to have forgotten
James Murphy
I don't know. As always, Collins' humor and willingness to recognize the quirky in our lives carry him a long way. His "Vocation" here in Horoscopes for the Dead, in which he sees a new constellation of the Pig, is an example. For the first time Collins didn't satisfy. I think he always tries to straddle the fence, tries to say something serious by coming at it via funny misdirection, like the unfamiliar guest who isn't quite secure expressing ideas without giving himself an amusing back door to ...more
Bill Keefe
I can just about hear the words emerge from my mouth, all wet with excitement, "...can never get enou.." when I see Billy Collins in front of me, (occasional) cigarette hanging from his lips, slowly moving his index finger up and down as the rest of his closed fist, chest high, bent slightly forward from the wrist, slowly follows in time, reminding me with a wry smile and those eyes of fresh spring innocence that in fact, I can. Surely now, I can. But at this moment, as his image disappears like ...more
I enjoy poetry, but I can't always explain why. When I read poetry, I do it for enjoyment and not as any type of scholarly exercise. So why do I feel guilty, sometimes, for liking Billy Collins so much? I guess because when I read it, I don't think to myself, oh now I'm going to try to dissect this obscure poem and wring some meaning from it. Instead, I just enjoy what I'm reading. They say the sign of true genius is making the difficult look easy. I don't think there is any English language poe ...more
Eric Slyter
Let me start by saying I absolutely love poetry. However, there is very little of it that I find worthwhile (I know, I know, I sound like a snob). But really I'm not, I promise. I just happen to have a particular taste. This new collection from Billy Collins remains one of the best collections of poetry I have come across. Simplistic yet profound. Smooth on the surface and complex beneath. Entirely accessible to even the most inexperienced poetry reader, yet satisfying to the pros. Horoscopes fo ...more
Joan Colby
This collection is rather mundane, as if Collins is running out of steam a bit and thus forced to include poems that don’t meet the standard one has come to expect of him. The title poem is the best. I also liked two poems about dogs—Good News and Two Creatures. Others such as Memento Mori, Hell, Poem on the 300th Anniversary of the Trinity School, The Chairs That No One Sits In, Unborn Children, Table Talk and Winter in Utah were good. However, too many were so-so and seem to have been included ...more

I always find poems in his work that amuse or move me. The ones that amuse delight me most.
Charlotte Klein
The poems in 'Horoscopes for the Dead,' cover the usual but eternal themes of love and loss, life and death, youth and aging, loneliness and union. With simple words and flowing lines, anyone can read Collins' poems and fall in love with poetry, as in the poem whose title is the same as the book, Horoscopes for the Dead:

Every morning since you disappeared for good,
I read about you in the newspaper
along with the box scores, the weather, and all the bad news.
Some days I am reminded that today
J.j. Wylie
* Note: my complete review of this book can be found at *

Every couple of years, when the Olympics start playing again on my television, I always have the same thought: "They make it look so easy!"

Whether I'm watching a gymnast tumbling & skipping through her floor routine or a ski-jumper executing some impossible freestyle stunt before sticking his landing, I actually entertain the thought, "That doesn't look so hard!"

Of course, on an intellectual lev
Amanda Westmont
I dislike poetry as a rule - it usually feels so written, like it's trying too hard. But everything Collins writes is magic. I wish I could try on his brain for a day just to see the world in his vocabulary.

My favorite poem in Horoscopes for the Dead was this one, called, What She Said:

When he told me he expected me to pay for dinner,
I was like give me a break.

I was not the exact equivalent of give me a break.
I was just similar to give me a break.

As I said, I was like give me a break.

I would lo
Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins, published in 2011 by Random House, is broken into four sections and includes a quote at the beginning from Alan Bennett‘s The Uncommon Reader, “It was the kind of library he had only read about in books.”

Collins’ mater-of-fact tone in these poems treats death and loss as an inevitability, which it is, but at the same time there is a reverence for the dead, dying, and living. In terms of Bennett’s quote at the beginning, Collins’ phenomenal library is the
I have read Billy Collins in the past, but not a whole book of his poems. I didn't at first fall in love with any, but I still enjoyed them, the unencumbered look at daily life, the slips of humor and irony. As I progressed through the book, though, I started _feeling_ them more deeply, which is a good thing. :)

Some I want to remember -

Simple Arithmetic (p 32)
"and gone are my notebook and my pencil / and there I go, too, / erased by my own eraser and blown like shavings off the page."

If I fault myself for anything, it’s that I underappreciate poetry. Although the idea of a secret society of post-pubescent guys sneaking around reading poetry did excite me in my youth, if I am honest with myself, the only thing that excited me about that was the secret society part and the brotherhood. I wouldn’t have considered the poetry aspect at all. But after reading O’Brien’s Island of the World, in which the protagonist is a poet and the novel itself is very poetic, I got the idea to re ...more
I love Billy Collins. He just plain says it. He doesn't reach for the heroic or the epic in the ordinary. The ordinary is enough. And he just plain says it. But when he does, he takes you to some unexpected place where things look very different from the ordinary.

As his poems unfold and we arrive at this other place, it’s extraordinary because we are right there with him--not below or behind or at a distance.

Collins is cool. Last semester, I showed some video adaptations of some of his poems--c
Some critique I read online derided Collins for being a suburban poet. Well, people in the suburbs need poems too. The discussion I was reading though missed what I personally find to be the crucial joy of Collins poems; these critics were talking about deeper meaning and symbolism or lack thereof and so forth, but for me his poems read, often, like good haiku. That is, it's not always about a deeper meaning or truth, sometimes it's about giving you enough words, placed just so, that open a door ...more
I enjoy Billy Collins, but despite the airplane on the cover of this, the poems in this collection never really took off for me. The poems lack turn, they seem often to lack purpose. And sometimes they go on too long. The title poem, for example, is amusing and there's the promise that the writer might tie it up and make a point, but it just keeps meandering. Here it is online:

The poem "Feedback" was just plain gratuitous, like the poet laughing at his ow
Billy Collins being as charming as ever, with some real winners and some not so much, some serous and affecting poems while most others are pensively silly. He's just a fun read, especially aloud. A favorite from this book, and also worth looking up him reading it on YouTube:


If I were crowned emperor this morning,
every child who is playing Marco Polo
in the swimming pool of this motel,
shouting the name Marco Polo back and forth

Marco Polo Marco Polo

would be required to read a biography
of M
Only Billy Collins could write a poem relating meatballs and department stores to the institution of marriage and render it suitably emotional and lovely as usual. Or repeatedly use the phrase "give me a break" in a poem and make it work. UGH.
Probably his least successful collection to date. Most of the poems are Collins at his worst--charming and forgettable. Predictable poems about poetry and dogs predominate. I think it's fashionable as a Serious Poet (whatever that means) to hate Billy Collins for his accessible and imprecise language, jokey tone, and unchallenging themes. This seems to me v. silly. Do I think Billy Collins is a great poet? No. Has Billy Collins done great things for American poetry in terms of accessibility and ...more
Cassie Cox
While I do not generally read a great deal of poetry, I thoroughly enjoy the work of poet Billy Collins.
Read for fun. I'm still not entirely sure how to approach a book of poetry (read it all at once? in stages? little by little?) but I read this collection in four sessions, one for each "section," and thought it was a good amount.

This time around, I decided not to analyze and annotate each poem as I did with his previous collection, Ballistics (2008). In some ways I think that made the poetry easier for me to enjoy, at the surface level, although I don't really remember them as well since I didn
Austen to Zafón
As always, I enjoy this man's poetry. Wry observations and surprising analogies. That said, this book wasn't as satisfying as some of his others. In any poetry collection, there are some poems that work for me and some that don't. I found many more that didn't in this one.

I enjoyed this one:

Table Talk

Not long after we had sat down to dinner
at a long table in a restaurant in Chicago
and were deeply engrossed in the heavy menus,
one of us--a bearded man with a colorful tie--
asked if anyone had ev
Eileen Granfors
Billy Collins continues his poetic journey in "Horoscopes for the Dead." The poems, short, lyrical, conversational, cover topics we'd expect: life and death, the passage of time, missing the moment, our loves and friendship.

What stands out is the turn of phrase, the perfect word, the unusual word or poetic device.

I wish I had tried out Billy Collins' work on my classes when I was still teaching. He captures the imagination and the accessibility of poetry.
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William A. ("Billy") Collins is an American poet. He served two terms as the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. In his home state, Collins has been recognized as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library (1992) and selected as the New York State Poet for 2004.
More about Billy Collins...
Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems The Trouble With Poetry - And Other Poems Nine Horses Picnic, Lightning Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry

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What do you think of my new glasses
I asked as I stood under a shade tree
before the joined grave of my parents,

and what followed was a long silence
that descended on the rows of the dead
and on the fields and the woods beyond,

one of the one hundred kinds of silence
according to the Chinese belief,
each one distinct from the others,

but the differences being so faint
that only a few special monks
were able to tell them apart.

They make you look very scholarly,
I heard my mother say
once I lay down on the ground

and pressed an ear into the soft grass.
Then I rolled over and pressed
my other ear to the ground,

the ear my father likes to speak into,
but he would say nothing,
and I could not find a silence

among the 100 Chinese silences
that would fit the one that he created
even though I was the one

who had just made up the business
of the 100 Chinese silences -
the Silence of the Night Boat

and the Silence of the Lotus,
cousin to the Silence of the Temple Bell
only deeper and softer, like petals, at its farthest edges.”
More quotes…