Picnic, Lighting, Billy Collins 1998

Collins is one of America’s favorite poets, a former Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003, New York State poet laureate and professor at CCNY.  His poems have been favorites of mine for many years and a number have been posted on The Poetry Tree.  I plucked this volume off my shelves in Vermont while talking to a friend on the phone about Vladimir Nabokov and noting that the title of this book of poems comes from Nabokov’s Lolita in which Humbert Humbert refers to his mother’s death with the line, “My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three.”  The eponymous poem by Collins is perfect for this time of year with its ‘what I think about when I shovel compost’, something I was doing just a couple of hours ago.  Overall, however, I think this volume of poetry has not stood the passage of time very well.  It seems a bit cute and too clever though there are some fine poems, especially the one about undressing Emily Dickinson and the poem about The Death of the Hat.  My favorite one is This Much I Do Remember.  It’s final stanza is:

“Even after I have forgotten what year it is/my middle name,/and the meaning of money,/I will still carry in my pocket/the small coin of that moment,/minted in the kingdom/that we pace through every day.”

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