I just borrowed Billy Collins latest poetry book, Ballistics, from the library. Over half the cover is devoted to a photo of a bullet slicing through a queen of hearts. Blam, you might think, this is poetry that cuts to the heart, poems that fire you up and punch holes in your assumptions.
Having read half the book, I have yet to find poetry that startles, pierces, or tears me. I have always enjoyed the way Mr. Collins writes: his essay-like turns in argument, whimsy, humor, and his graceful observations. He can be funny in a toast-master fashion or find the small profundities in the zen moments of everyday activities. And some of that delight is here. But there is a triviality to the handling of subject matter that makes these feel like the exercises of a skilled yet unengaged master. Death in his hands is a dentists appointment that has been scheduled for you, old age a daily round of boredoms, and lust is a thin target of verse.
Yes, there are a few winners in this deck. And I will find a few more if I keep reading... But I have to ask why the poet hasn't challenged himself to do more with his skills. This is the least engaging collection of his work I have read. When I think of poets like Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, or Donald Justice who could take a stroll and look at things, and write both the surfaces and the depths, I want to direct Mr. Collins to go deeper and stop stalling with card tricks.