Life, Death and Mice…

Author:  Billy Collins

Picnic Lightning cover (196x257)I haven’t been able to fully explain it until recently.  But when I read that Billy Collins told George Plimpton – in a 2001 interview in The Paris Review – that one of the main influences on his work has been Looney Tunes cartoons, it suddenly all made since.  My undying enthusiasm for the award-winning poet’s work owes its existence to the efforts of Bugs, Elmer and Sylvester.  Having zealously consumed his more recent works, my tour of the former US Poet Laureate’s body of work has had to venture back in time a bit, to Picnic, Lightning, published in 1998.

The 1971 Emily Dickinson US postal stamp.

The 1971 Emily Dickinson US postal stamp.

While this collection of 44 poems is much more than just silliness and slapstick, Collins’ trademark humor is consistently hovering over the proceedings, whether he’s gently undressing Emily Dickinson or lamenting the demise of the fedora.  Full of plain-spoken ruminations on life, death and mice, Collins’ poems are consistently inviting and unpretentious, frequently featuring clever and unexpected twists and turns.

I usually read a Collins volume slowly – savoring each piece over several weeks and months – and by the time I’m done I often find myself wanting to start over again at the beginning.  True to form, Picnic, Lightning is full of poems worthy of repeated reading.

Electric fate?

Electric fate?

From contemplations following his father’s death to his personal take on the feminine images in a Victoria’s Secret catalog, Collins’ work covers the full spectrum of human experience, from the tragic to the mundane.  Highly recommended by this Wile E. Coyote fan.

— D. Driftless

The Paris Review interview with BC is worth checking out, along with dozens of other great author interviews.

Other Billy Collins reviews on Readers Lane:

Aimless Love   /   The Art of Drowning   /   Ballistics

lightning photo by Mathias Krumbholz

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