Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems

Image of Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems
Release Date: 
October 22, 2013
Random House
Reviewed by: 

“. . . the best of Billy Collins’ poems from 2002 to the present.”

Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the U.S. and of New York State, and author of 10 previous collections of poetry, has also edited two large anthologies whose titles do much to indicate his approach: Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry and Poetry 180: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day.

Traditional and popular in approach, Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems offers us the best of Billy Collins’ poems from 2002 to the present.

In a recent film by Chris Felver on West Coast poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Billy Collins appears to praise this rebel poet of engagement and editor-publisher of the Beats. The striking differences between the two poets and yet this public linkage beg us to go beyond any perceived boxes in order to see what these poets share.

Both write poems of humor, ironic and often self-mocking, but also using humor to strip away a social veneer in order to reveal our social mores and hypocrisies. Both poets embrace the everyday details of modern life to create a populist poetry that is easily accessible and immensely popular.

Mr. Collins' tone is typically light, conversational, touching everyday images, yet often skirting depths in its overall urge to please. He is fond of listings as in the title poem where he lists all that he takes into his heart:

“This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,/ I fell in love with a wren/ and later in the day with a mouse/ the cat that dropped under the dining room table./. . . No lust, no slam of the door—/ the love of the miniature orange tree,/ the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,/ the highway that cuts across Florida.”

This listing of “my favorite things” is close and familiar, even comforting, yet without challenge or real insight. And yet one cannot argue with this gentle observing and acceptance so typical of the poet. One reads a few poems at a time, smiles or laughs, yet feels no compunction to go further, to see where the poet is going. The poems rest there like a friend.

Mr. Collins has a fine sense of nature in many poems, as in “Osprey,” “A Question About Birds,” and “The Deep.” In the later he speculates on the ocean depths, then turns away, “heading out to walk along a sunny trail/ in the thin, high-desert air, accompanied/ by juniper trees, wildflowers, and that gorgeous hawk.” His poems bring us alive to the daily wonders.

There are many poems of places in which the poet’s associative mind discovers hidden connections: “Paris,” “Istanbul,” “Elk River Falls,” “Palermo,” “Central Park,” “France.” In “Rome in June” he strands inside the Church of Saint Dorothy and notices “a statue of Mary with a halo of electric lights,/ a faded painting of a saint in flight,/ Joseph of Copertino, as it turned out, and an illustration above a side altar/ bearing the title ‘The Musical Ecstasy of St. Francis.” And then he confesses:

But what struck me in a special way
like a pebble striking the forehead
was the realization that the simple design
running up the interior of the church’s dome

was identical to the design on the ceiling
of the room by the Spanish Steps
where Keats had died and where I
had stood with lifted eyes just the day before.
It was worth coming to Rome
if only to see what supine Keats was beholding
just before there would be no more Keats,
only Shelley, not yet swallowed by wave,
and Byron before his Greek fever,
and Wordsworth who outlived Romanticism itself.

Here and elsewhere throughout the book Mr. Collins writes of his true love for art and poetry in poems that clarify for him and his readers the intention behind the act of writing and reading a poem. In “Poetry” he seeks to clarify poetry’s role and separate it from fiction:
Call it a field where the animals
who were forgotten by the Ark
come to graze under the evening clouds.

Or a cistern where the rain fell
before history trickles over a concrete lip.

However you see it,
this is no place to set up
the three-legged easel of realism

or make a reader climb
over the many fences of a plot.
We are busy doing nothing—
and all we need for that is an afternoon,
a rowboat under a blue sky,

and maybe a man fishing from a stone bridge,
or, better still, nobody on that bridge at all.

Billy Collins is our ready guide and fellow traveler on this journey, sensing and noting for us all the quiet significance of the world as we pass.

His poems are good company.