Kerry's Reviews > Ballistics

Ballistics by Billy Collins
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Jun 13, 12

bookshelves: everything

There is a lot to love about Billy Collin’s poetry. For me, I love his wry observations and his musings about all the little details of what he sees and what he reads, what he feels and what he thinks about. I also love how permeable he makes the barriers between poet, poem and reader, addressing his audience or the authors and poets of what he has read in a direct, conversational tone that really appeals to me.

As a collection of poems, Ballistics, was thoroughly enjoyable. (How can you NOT enjoy poems that contain lines like: “When it’s late at night and branches / Are banging against the windows, / You might think that love is just a matter / Of leaping out of the frying pan of yourself / Into the fire of someone else, But it’s a little more complicated than that”) I particularly enjoyed:


August in Paris
By Billy Collins

I have stopped here on the rue des Ecoles
Just off the boulevard St-Germain
To look over the shoulder of a man
In a flannel shirt and a straw hat
Who has set up an easel and a canvas chair
On the sidewalk in order to paint from a droll angle
A side-view of The Church of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

But where are you, reader,
Who have not paused in your walk
To look over my shoulder
To see what I am jotting in this notebook?

Alone in this city,
I sometimes wonder what you look like,
If you are wearing a flannel shirt
Or a wraparound blue skirt held together by a pin.

But every time I turn around
You have fled through a crease in the air
To a quiet room where the shutters are closed,
Against the heat of the afternoon,
Where there is only the sound of your breathing
And every so often, the turning of a page.

The Effort
By Billy Collins

Would anyone care to join me
In flicking a few pebbles in the direction
Of teachers who are fond of asking the question:
“What is the poet trying to say?”

As if Thomas Hardy and Emily Dickinson
Had struggled but ultimately failed in their efforts –
Inarticulate wretches that they were,
Biting their pens and staring out the window for a clue.

Yes, it seems that Whitma, Amy Lowell
And the rest could only try and fail,
But we in Mrs. Parker’s third-period English class
Here at Springfield High will succeed

With the help of these study questions
In saying what the poor poet could not,
And we will get all this done before
That orgy of egg salad and tuna fish known as lunch.

Tonight, however, I am the one trying
To say with it is this absence means,
The two of us sleeping and waking under different roofs.
The image of this vase of cut flowers,
Not from our garden, is no help.
And the same goes for the single plate,
The solitary lamp, and the weather that presses its face
Against these new windows – the drizzle and the morning frost

So I will leave it up to Mrs. Parker,
Who is tapping a piece of chalk against the blackboard,
And her students – a few with their hands up,
Others slouching with their caps on backwards –

To figure out what I am trying to say
About this place where I find myself
And to do it before the noon bell rings
And that whirlwind of meatloaf is unleashed.


Adage
By Billy Collins

When it’s late at night and branches
Are banging against the windows,
You might think that love is just a matter

Of leaping out of the frying pan of yourself
Into the fire of someone else,
But it’s a little more complicated than that.

It’s more like trading the two birds
Who might be hiding in that bush
For the one that you are not holding in your hand.

A wise man once said that love
Was like forcing a horse to drink
But then everyone stopped thinking of him as wise.

Let us be clear about something.
Love is not as simple as getting up
On the wrong side of the bead wearing the emperor’s clothes.

No, it’s more like the way the pen
Feels after it has defeated the sword.
It’s a little like the penny saved or the nine dropped stitches.

You look at me through the halo of the last candle
And tell me love is an ill wind
That has no turning, a road that blows no good,

But I am here to remind you,
As our shadows tremble on the walls,
That love is the early bird who is better late than never.

Divorce
By Billy Collins

Once, two spoons in bed,
Now tined forks

Across a granite table
And the knives they have hired.


Oh, My God!
By Billy Collins

Not only in church
And nightly by their bedsides
Do young girls pray these days.

Wherever they go,
Prayer is woven into their talk
Like a bright thread of awe.

Even at the pedestrian mall
Outbursts of praise
Spring unbidden from their glossy lips.

Envoy
By Billy Collins
Go, little book,
Out of this house and into the world,

Carriage made of paper rolling towards town
Bearing a single passenger
Beyond the reach of this jittery pen,
Far from the desk and the nosy gooseneck lamp.

It is time to decamp,
Put on a jacket and venture outside,
Time to be regarded by other eyes,
Bound to be held in foreign hands.

So off you go, infants of the brain,
With a wave and some bits of fatherly advice:

Stay out as late as you like,
Don’t bother to call or write,
And talk to as many strangers as you can.
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