Whale Day And Other Poems
Billy Collins is a living legend in (and of) American letter. Poet Laureate in the immediate post-911 years. Professor handing on his advice to new generations. And a prolific publishing presence still. There’s warmth and wisdom in Collins’ poems.
And his latest volume turns its attention towards death. Collins is approaching his 80th birthday, the book was released in what we’ll remember as The Covid Year. And yet the regular displays of generosity, subtle humour and good spirit are all present and accounted for. In short – even in writing about death, Collins finds life, finds so much to celebrate. Maybe there’s added whimsy here. But also I read this having completed the Billy Collins masterclass so I very much had his voice in my head. Which was lovely – and brilliant. It became a whole new way in. I’ve long admired Collins but sometimes I’ve felt like a tourist just going with the flow, recognising the name and acknowledging it.
Whale Day showed me what he was telling me in the masterclass sessions. This is a poet of subtlety – these are personal essays that sit in the moment but last several lifetimes. There’s just a subtle gorgeousness to the depth and feel of these writings.
The way Collins blends pathos and humour, showcasing – always – nostalgia by and in its very correct definition is something that is hard to pin down. You feel it though. It happens, clearly. It’s presented on the page – but there’s some alchemy we never get to see in the creation. We live in with the end-result and are spellbound by its charms.
Collins is fast becoming one of my favourite poets – because I’m always late to the party. But I have read back over some of his previous volumes and I feel there’s a levity to much of this collection that wasn’t always there. It’s a levity that sits in under the weight of these words though – there’s nothing ‘light’ as such about the big themes here. Collins just makes it remarkably accessible.
In that sense I feel that Whale Day would be a great starting/entry point or perfect for reconnecting. And there are some individual poems here, as with all of his collections, that are utterly jaw-dropping. The master is still working to peak-game and with full effect.
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