Craig Werner's Reviews > The Trouble With Poetry - And Other Poems

The Trouble With Poetry - And Other Poems by Billy Collins
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Mar 11, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: poetry
Read from March 11 to 21, 2012

In the title poem of this critically acclaimed and popular volume, Billy Collins writes:

the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry.

Wouldn't take it as a general principle, but in the case of Collins, its amazingly apt. (Snark snark.) I know I'm not doing him any favors reading him in juxtaposition with my tour of Robert Frost, but man this language is flat. Having finished, I can't remember a single image that took me anywhere I hadn't been a hundred times before. In poem cited above, Collins casts this as an odd kind of virtue, acknowledging his "theft" of an image from Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It's a useful comparison--Ferlinghetti didn't have the brilliance of Ginsberg or Gregory Corso at their best, but he was located on a social/aesthetic fringe that had some real danger in it. Collins writes in a similar voice, but his work radiates comfort--I didn't catch a hint of psychological or social exploration.

Maybe this is just to say that Collins is a classic middlebrown poet--I've defended some of them before--Longfellow, Robert Service. Or maybe I'm just in a grouchy mood. Collins presents himself as a latter day Whitman in "You, Reader" (an obvious reworking of "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"), but I just didn't buy it.

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