Former US Poet Laureate (or “lariat”, depending on who you ask) Billy Collins, was at D.G. Wills in La Jolla on Sunday the 16th for a reading from his newest collection, Ballistics. I am not much of a poetry reader, as I’m sure many have noticed, but I do read Billy Collins. Hearing him read his work aloud though, something else entirely. His performance far outpaced anything I could have expected – his perfect, dry, deadpan delivery made every line that had seemed innocent and blunt, take on a sharper, wittier edge that I had never picked up on in reading them myself. Later in the evening, I was one of a lucky, honored few who had dinner and drinks with the esteemed Mr. Collins – really one of those once in a lifetime sort of things. For those of us who remember the bulk of the evening, of course….
I will leave you with his title poem from the new collection – taken unceremoniously without permission from the pages of the book:
When I came across the high-speed photograph
of a bullet that had just pierced a book – the pages exploding with the velocity –
I forgot all about the marvels of photography
and began to wonder which book
the photographer had selected for the shot.
Many novels sprang to mind
including those of Raymond Chandler
where an extra bullet would hardly be noticed.
Nonfiction offered too many choices –
a history of Scottish lighthouses,
a biography of Joan of Arc and so forth.
Or it could be an anthology of medieval literature,
the bullet having just beheaded Sir Gawain
and scattered the band of assorted pilgrims.
But later, as I was drifting off to sleep,
I realized that the executed book
was a recent collection of poems written
at twenty-eight hundred feet per second,
through the poems about his childhood
and the ones about the dreary state of the world,
and then through the author’s photograph,
through the beard, the round glasses,
and that special poet’s hat he loves to wear.
-excerpted from Ballistics by Billy Collins, available at fine independent bookstores everywhere.