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Nine Horses (2003)

Nine Horses (2003)
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Rating
4.17 of 5 Votes: 5
ISBN
0375755209 (ISBN13: 9780375755200)
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English
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publisher
random house trade
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Nine Horses (2003)
Nine Horses (2003)

About book: I'd read all of Collins's collections except for this one and the most recent.I can say I enjoyed the book in a very general way, but I'm left thinking: Hmmm... Isn't this a little dumbed-down? Is it really what I think of when I think (eek!) "poetry"? I generally like early Collins better than later Collins. He seems to be one poet who has not improved with writing or with age. Just my opinion. I preferred the earlier sections of this collection. By section IV, I'd lost some interest or the poems just didn't seem fresh and witty anymore. They made me feel a little weary.Ernest Hilbert has said of Collins's poeems: "It is a bit disturbing to enjoy a poem so much the first time that it becomes limp upon a second reading. One of the reasons it seems so appealing the first time is its ease of entry. Then the helium hisses out. The trade off is apparent." True, true. The best effects are on first reading, though I do occasionally go back to old favorites.Hilbert also says: "The poems are for the most part enjoyable, skirting the scarcely perceptible line between art (anguish, emotional growth, intellectual challenge) and entertainment (passive enjoyment, though not to be mistaken for fun, which involves one in its workings)." Skirting the line? I don't know. I think they require very little of a reader, but offer a passive enjoyment. I've seen Collins read and he's terrific with an audience, but he's an entertainer, after all. Poetry that's little more than entertainment isn't something I want to spend too much time on. I have always disliked the poem, "Litany," which most people seem to like. In fact, after some Googling, I now believe I am the only person on the planet who doesn't like it. Maybe I've been misreading it all these years. To me, it seems like just an extended exercise in making fun of Jacques Crickillon who apparently wrote:"you are the bread and the knife,the crystal goblet and the wine.". . . and of making fun of poets and poetry in general, which Collins does a lot. (don't we have enough people willing to do that?) He's always trivializing poetry and his own writing -- as though he's just dabbling with words. I actually like the idea behind Crickillon's words. You are not the goblet to the wine, or vice versa — rather, you are both the treasured thing itself and the vessel, what holds and is held. (Except that I can't think of a way to say it better than to say you are the crystal goblet and the wine.)There are a few good ones here. I especially enjoyed this one:Night Letter to the ReaderI get up from the tangled bed and go outside,a bird leaving its nest,a snail taking a holiday from its shell, but only to stand on the lawn,an ordinary insomniacamid the growth systems of gardens and woods. If I were younger, I might be thinkingabout something I heard at a party,about an unusual car, or the press of Saturday night,but as it is, I am simply conscious,an animal in pajamas, sensing only the pale humidityof the night and the slight zephyrsthat stir the tops of the trees. The dog has followed me outand stands a little ahead,her nose lifted as if she were inhaling the tall white flowers,visible tonight in the darkened garden,and there was something else I wanted to tell you, something about the warm orange lightin the windows of the house,but now I am wondering if you are even listening and why I bother to tell you these thingsthat will never make a difference,flecks of ash, tiny chips of ice. But this is all I want to do -tell you that up in the woodsa few night birds are calling, the grass was cold and wet on my bare feet,and that at one point, the moon,looking like the top of Shakespeare’s famous forehead,appeared, quite unexpectedly,illuminating a band of moving clouds.  

Let me start by saying: I KNOW ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT POETRY! In grad school I intentionally steered clear of any class that had to analyze poetry in any aspect. It’s not that I was afraid of the work; it was more that the work overwhelmed me. How does one exactly go about analyzing the thoughts of a person when the words are directed at allusions and people and places and times that the reader may have little to no knowledge of? Years have passed since my chickening out, and I have decided to give poetry another try. I mean, who really cares how I interpret a poem? I’m the reader, right? Before reading NINE HORSES, I had never heard of Billy Collins before. This saddens me. To me, this void in my literary reading experience denotes that there is much I still have to learn about literature, about the written word in general. (And I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone in this, am I?) So I read Collins’ book of poems in five different sittings and tried to make mental notes of some of the imagery he evokes through his words. Before long, I had lost most these images. It wasn’t that his word-paintings were vague or uninspired or cliché, they weren’t. What I think happened was this: Collins doesn’t try to bombard the reader with heavy allusions that don’t make sense or supplant esoteric verses that require not only a Ph.D. in poetry, but a Ph.D. in life. His writing is simple, but simple in a profound way—if that makes any sense. He uses examples and details that most readers will be able to relate, if not actually feel his experiences because they have felt them too. I sound like a teenager gushing over a first date, I hope s/he calls me!! But this is my proof of what a remarkable writer Billy Collins is. I don’t know how good he is. I don’t even know if I can compare him to anyone. Like I said, I know absolutely nothing about poetry. But I do know that his poems invigorated me, made me think, and energized a latent spirit within that wants more.Perhaps this is all a phase and I will awaken tomorrow and think nothing of Billy Collins and his book of poems as I eat breakfast with my wife and children. But then again, perhaps I will share with them what I read tonight. Here are a few of my favorite poems in the book:Tipping PointAt home, the jazz station plays all day, so sometimes it becomes indistinct,like the sound of rain, birds in the background, the surf of traffic.But today I heard a voice announce that Eric Dolphy, 36 when he died,has now been dead for 36 years.I wonder—did anyone sense something when another Eric Dolphy lifetimewas added to the span of life,when we all took another full dolphy step forward in time, flipped over the Eric Dolphy yardstick once again?It would have been so subtle—like the sensation you might feelas you passed through the moment at the exact center in your lifeor as you crossed the equator at night in a boat.I never gave it another thought,but could that have been the little shift I sensed a while agoas I walked down in the rain to get the mail?NO TIMEIn a rush this weekday morning, I tap the horn as I speed past the cemetery where my parents are buriedside by side under a smooth slab of granite.Then, all day long, I think of him rising upto give me that look of knowing disapproval while my mother calmly tells him to lie back down.-----------------------------------------------------------------------I think this is really good stuff. But who am I to say?VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
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Reviews
Angie
I'd loved the few Billy Collins' poems I had read, but I hadn't read many. One evening last week I was hanging around my parents' house, sitting on a porch swing in the back yard while the children played in the sand when it occurred to me that I was enjoying a rather idyllic moment, but that it would be better if I had a book. So I wandered in the house, found a book case, and picked out _Nine Horses_. (I'm sure it's yours, Laurie, but I've stolen it now; you can steal it back though.) So I'm now a big fan of Mr. Collins. I read a review that claimed Collins' poems are the musings of a self-satisfied, upper-class, over-educated, middle-aged man. I can't argue with that, but it turns out I really like the musings of this particular self-satisfied, upper-class, over-educated (is there such a thing?), middle-aged man. I love his humor. I love his observation of the small. I love his way of writing about things we all experience, like having a song stuck in your head, but looking at such things, I dunno, like a poet, I guess. He writes in free verse, but I find I like the sound, and it feels to me as though there is thought behind the structure and certainly in the word choice. By the way, why does Michael Ferch's review show up as the description of this book on Goodreads? I heartily disagree with his assertion that the poetry is banal, and I think Collins does successfully find beauty in simplicity. What's more, Ferch's comparison of Collins' poems to Kinkade's paintings just doesn't ring true for me. (Though next time I want to insult something for being comfortable but boring and shallow, I thank Ferch for giving me the idea to compare it to a Kinkade painting.) I suppose I do find Collins' poems comfortable, but certainly not boring or shallow, and I like the "comfortable" in this case. Of course, some poems are better than others. I think "The Country" and "Study in Orange and White" are perhaps my favorites. Forgive me here for indulging in a bit of quoting, but I think your reaction to the beginning lines of "The Country" will be a good indicator as to whether or not you'll be a fan of Mr. Collins' poetry: I wondered about you when you told me never to leave a box of wooden strike-anywhere matches lying around the house because the mice might get to them and start a fire. But your face was absolutely straight when you twisted the lid down on the round tin where the matches, you said, are always stowed.The poem goes on to imagine a mouse getting a hold of a match, and I found myself delighted as I read, and yes, the minute Dan came along, I had to read him the poem and several more, for that matter. I made Jennie read one too, for good measure.
Zinta
"...now I am wondering if you are even listening/and why I bother to tell you these things/that will never make a difference..." (from "Night Letter to a Reader," B. Collins)But they do. They do make a difference. Perhaps it is not what Billy Collins is saying that is important so much as how he says it -- with the courage of simplicity. He speaks in words that resonate like music in the heart, not as symphonies or brass bands, but with the smoky blues of a darkness that must sometimes enfold the living and breathing spirit, or the rhythm and beat of blood pumping through animal veins, or the calm hum of a tune that accompanies you through the working day, and then, long into the night. Often, the hum is still there in the morning. Collins' poetry lasts that way. "There was nothing to write about/except life and death/and the low warning sound of the train whistle."If there are only three topics for the writer, Collins has created a simple yet powerful poetry out of all three.
Dan Gobble
Another great collection of poems by Billy Collins! One of my favorites, "Litany", reveals his clever toying with words and ideas, pushing a thought around as playful as if they were a feather twisting and turning in a March breeze. He begins this poem by quoting two lines from Jacques Crickillon:"You are the bread and the knife,The crystal goblet and the wine."Collins follows that thought with these lines:You are the bread and the knife,the crystal goblet and the wine.You are the dew on the morning grass,and the burning wheel of the sun.You are the white aporn of the bakerand the marsh birds suddenly in flight.However, you are not the wind in the orchard,the plums on the counter,or the house of cards.And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.There is no way you are the pine-scented air.It is possible that you are the fish under the bride,maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,but you are not even closeto being the field of cornflowers at dusk.And a quick look in the mirror will showthat you are neither the boots in the cornernor the boat asleep in its boathouse.It might interest you to know,speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,that I am the sound of rain on the roof.I also happen to be the shooting star,the evening paper blowing down an alley,and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.I am also the moon in the treesand the blind woman's teacup.But don't worry, I am not the bread and the knife.You are still the bread and the knife.You will always be the bread and the knife,not to mention the crystal goblet and - somehow - the wine.(Billy Collins, "Nine Horses", New York: Random House, orginally published: 2002, paperback edition: 2003, pp. 69-70)
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