You know the parlor trick.
wrap your arms around your own body
and from the back it looks like
someone is embracing you
her hands grasping your shirt
her fingernails teasing your neck
from the front it is another story
you never looked so alone
your crossed elbows and screwy grin
you could be waiting for a tailor
to fit you with a straight jacket
one that would hold you really tight.
Billy Collins is an American poet whose style is one that emulates an almost personal conversation with the reader. Often times in a poem Collins will address the reader pondering the question of, ‘I am here, where are you?’ Coupled with this tearing down of the fourth wall is the humour evident in his work. Poems such as ‘Embrace’ (seen above) and ‘Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House‘ are the poems where this humour and almost bitter playfulness stand out the most.
Other themes addressed by Collins are numerous and vary greatly, however while humour is certainly evident in the work, so too is a sense of depression. References to anti-depressants and a developed sense of ennui litter the works sporadically. These moments of humour, sadness and above all an appreciation of the small things in life are all strongly evident in Collins work. The collections and published books of Collins are a pleasure to read as his work is very accessible to the reader. There is no extended or complicated focus on style or form, rather Collins presents simple yet poignant poems. This distinct style and body of work is one that, for me, makes Collins an inspired and brilliant poet.
For a sample of his work, a few of Billy Collins’ poems can be found here and here.