Easy Writer

That gentle click will have to do; it's the central pleasure. The experience is something like playing Jeopardy along with the television: Even though we don't get to choose the categories, we nail answer after answer. This is the allegory of "Hunger," which one now suspects was excluded from this volume for telling too much. We are each a sack bearer hauling a Collins poem; the mistaken feeling is that of readerly strength. We haven't really learned anything, or thought more carefully, but we feel for a moment as if we might've.

Along with such flattery, Collins offers a dated world: He enjoys words like civics, and references to Dick and Jane. He brings up his jazz collection so frequently that when he mentions George Thorogood and the Destroyers, we are dazzled by the contemporaneity. He's allowed. These are his poems, and if he wants to say he likes apples, no one can say he doesn't.

Poet laureate Billy Collins has won America’s popularity contest.
photo: Steven Bamberg
Poet laureate Billy Collins has won America’s popularity contest.


Sailing Alone Around The Room
By Billy Collins
Random House, 172 pp., $21.95
Buy this book

Such old-timeyness is another expression of the split in the audience's relationship to poetry. Poetry's position is guaranteed by its history of ongoing challenges at the borders of language use. But such things are necessarily freighted with unfamiliarity, and tend to be disturbing or mysterious on first appearance. Poetry, in short, gets its status from newness—from demanding work of readers they don't yet know how to do. But like many other things, poetry takes its ease from naturalizing what might've been new a few decades back into the now-familiar, from assigning us tasks we know all too well how to do: a kind of busywork for the mind that takes almost no work at all, yet lets us feel like we are doing something fine.

« Previous Page