Thursday, November 11, 2010

Book Recommendation: Ballistics

I've never really liked poetry. Sure, I own a book of Emily Dickinson poems that I occasionally enjoy digging up, and there are a few Edgar Allen Poe poems that I absolutely adore. Hell, if I could marry Shakespeare, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But for the most part, I'm not poetry's #1 fan, despite my best efforts. I've had to read plenty in my time as an English/Creative Writing major; I think that goes without saying. I understand the merits involved in teaching it, especially the older stuff like Chaucer and Spenser (oddly enough, I was the only kid in my class who enjoyed THE FAERIE QUEENE). But as far as personal preference goes, poetry will never be my go-to genre when I feel like reading.

That being said, I have some exciting news for us non-poetry-enthusiasts! There is poetry out there (modern stuff -- I'm not talking CANTERBURY TALES anymore) that is good!

BALLISTICS, by Billy Collins
Published September 9th, 2008 by Random House
128 Pages

A friend recently lent me a copy of Billy Collins' BALLISTICS, and I'm actually considering purchasing my own. I have to admit, I was leery at first. Most of the more modern poetry I've read I haven't enjoyed, but I was willing to give this one a shot. If anything, I really liked the cover, and god knows the art history buff in me can't resist a good cover. So I sat down one afternoon between classes and opened up BALLISTICS.

I finished the book the same day I started. Each time I turned the page I'd tell myself just one more poem, and eventually I just ran out of them. I liked the sequence of the poems; even though there is no plot in a collection of poetry, I almost felt as though there was one tucked away in this book. I felt as though I were reading an actual story, rather than a bunch of poems.

There were two poems in particular that really stood out to me: "Adage" and "Evasive Maneuvers." The language is just incredible, and I definitely came across a few lines I wish I'd written myself. Here's just a stanza from "Evasive Maneuvers":

And I hid behind books,
usually one of the volumes of the encyclopedia
that was kept behind glass in a bookcase, 
the letters of the alphabet in gold.

And an excerpt from "Adage":

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 you are not holding in your hand.

There's just something so simple and beautiful about the way he puts words and ideas together. THAT is what I feel poetry should be. Maybe Billy Collins is just easily accessible, making it easy for just about anyone to like his work. But you know what? There's nothing wrong with that. I thought BALLISTICS was really charming, and now I'm eager to pick up one of his other collections.

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