"Whale Day, And Other Poems" | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider
Let me preface this review by stating I’m not a big poetry buff—in fact, my appreciation of the genre rests entirely on my friendship and appreciation of the writing of my friend Maria Brady-Smith, a local poet who has published four poetry books.
Maria’s poetry is graced with word-play, extended metaphors that paint pictures in my mind, verse that is simple and oh so readable, her subject matter identifiable, the stuff of daily life, timely and profound.
I have Maria to thank for introducing me to Billy Collins’ poetry; she turned me into a fan of this United States poet laureate, (2001-2003), whose work has the same effect on me that Maria’s does, making me pause and feel the feelings that a beautifully crafted poem elicits.
In his newest gift to readers, Collins, always riveting, often humorous, covers subjects that run the gamut, from a walk with his old dog, to musing on trial size samples of shampoo and such in “Hotel Rex” to the trepidation of handing someone a poem to look over in “Objectivity.”
Collins’ takes us places too—crossing a busy street with him in San Francisco to “Paris in May,” where we see the city through his eyes, “a man wearing a newspaper hat…there a child alone on a flowery balcony? …a woman in a café, her red nails on a man’s nape while she smokes…”
And then to “Arizona” where he hears “…the songs of birds, which puts me in a better state of mind than the one I wake up to some mornings as I lie in bed worrying about the same five things I will be worried about on my deathbed if I am lucky enough to have a deathbed, and not a tall death-wave or a deep death-lake or a dizzying death-cliff, a death-gun or a death-knife, and death is only one of the five nightly hounds that prowl in circles around my bed.”
With pathos mixed with lightheartedness he describes his aging as “…having sailed some time ago into the quiet cardigan harbor of [his] life…” and of friends lost in a poem titled “Downpour,” as he makes an alphabetical list of them,
“…on the flip side of a shopping list you had left on the kitchen table…So many of them …swept away as if by a hand from the sky, it was good to recall them, I was thinking under the cold lights of a supermarket as I guided a cart with wobbly wheels up and down the long, strident aisles…”
It’s my hope that this meager offering, a brief sampling from “Whale Day” will stir you as his poetry stirs me—awaken you to Collins, a master of his game, a wholly approachable writer who will make you sit up and take notice, and perhaps inspire you to reflect on the little things, the tiny often seemingly insignificant moments in life.