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Picnic, Lightning – Billy Collins

Picnic, Lighting is Billy Collin’s sixth collection of poetry. The book begins with the poem “A Portrait of the Reader with a Bowl of Cereal” and a quotation from Yeats: “A poet…never speaks directly, as to someone at the breakfast table.” Collins devotes the poems in this book to proving Yeats completely wrong.

His poems are universal, simple, surprising, observant, unobscured and rewarding. The writing in un-gimicky and relies on the relateability of the subject matter. His poems are firmly set in the every-day, but their strength comes from their intense dedication to the observable world and their ability to derive significance from the ordinary. Collins speaks to you in a warm voice, like a friend with a hint of amusement in his voice.

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.

Collins uses ordinary circumstances “that we pace through every day:” a breakfast table, a backyard, a driveway, on walks, planes, trains, in a bedroom, a study, to convey extraordinary understanding. He loves the morning and microcosms. He excels in the studying the under-noticed. “In the Room of a Thousand Miles” summarizes Collins’ poetic identity nicely:

“She thinks I ought to be opening up

my aperture to let in

the wild rhododendrons of Ireland,

the sun-bleached stadiums of Rome,

that waterclock in Bruges –

the world beyond my inkwell.

…And then – just between you and me –

[I] pick up my thin pen

and write down that bird I hear outside,

the one that sings,

pauses,

then sings again.”

Collins seems to make sense of the world in this way, and in reading his work, so do we.

-Johannah O’Keefe

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