Whale Day: And Other Poems

Random. Sept. 2020. 144p. ISBN 9780399589751. $26. POETRY
In his 13th collection, former U.S. Poet Laureate Collins presents poems that strike a balance between fact and fiction, description and whimsy. Travel, friendship, love, and walking an aged dog are all topics here, but a significant number focus on mortality—whether the poet’s own or that of friends and relatives. Their tone is often light, but beneath the humor is a quest to understand what happens before dying and after; one riffs on cremains, opining that “Scattering is the option du jour.” At heart, Collins is a storyteller, as showcased in “Downpour,” whose speaker writes the names of recently deceased friends on the back of a shopping list. Leaving the supermarket, he suddenly realizes he forgot Terry O’Shea and the bananas and bread: “And that is when I set out,/ ...walking as if in a procession honoring the dead.” Some poems miss the mark, as in a poem that quotes Cézanne’s wonderful observation that “a single carrot,/ if painted in a completely fresh way,/ would be enough to set off a revolution” but too predictably leaps to Bugs Bunny and Beatrix Potter. Yet the best poems offer moments of sheer magic that take readers to places never imagined.
VERDICT Not Collins’s best collection but a solid one that all libraries will want for its emotional resonance during difficult times.
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