Recommended Reading: The Niagara River, by Kay Ryan

Back in late July, I featured a poem called “Thin,” by Kay Ryan.  I liked it so much that I went to the library that week to find a full-length book of hers, and the library obligingly provided The Niagara River. As a child, I spent many happy summer afternoons jumping into the Niagara River from my Uncle Bill and Aunt Mary Kay’s dock, so the whole thing seemed beshert.

Image courtesy of  George Stojkovic /

Image courtesy of George Stojkovic /

I love these poems. They’re unlike any others in my pretty extensive poetry library. They’re short, rarely flowing from one page onto another, and the lines are short as well, often just three or four syllables in length. I found the rhythm, and the occasional rhymes, jarring, but not unpleasantly so. Many of the poems end with a subtle twist, a line that forces the whole poem into sharper focus. These poems call for slow reading and then re-reading; I wanted to savor and remember them.

Some of my favorites in this volume are “Carrying a Ladder,” “Sharks’ Teeth,” “Green Hills,” “Ideal Audience,” “Hide and Seek,” and “The Well or the Cup.” I hope you’ll have a look at them for yourself.

Early Review: Aimless Love*, by Billy Collins

Billy Collins writes one particular kind of poem, and he writes it well. A Collins poem is recognizable by its shape on the page (stanzas of three or four lines, of medium length), by its tendency to flutter from its point of origin for a just a moment, and then alight again a few yards away, like a sparrow on a sidewalk.

Aimless Love, Billy Collins

His poems are cozy but not uncomfortably intimate, clever but not arrogant. Their subjects are work and rest, reading and writing, eating, looking out of windows; in short, the everyday business of being alive in America. As I’ve written elsewhere, his poetry is perfect for picking up on a whim, while you wait for a friend who’s late to dinner, say. You’ll be entertained, you’ll think, and you might even laugh, but you won’t be trying to unknot a metaphor half an hour later while you chew your escarole.

Aimless Love, a collection of new and selected poems due out in October, is no different. Here you’ll find a generous armful of poems from four earlier collections (Nine HorsesThe Trouble With PoetryBallistics, and Horoscopes for the Dead), and about fifty new poems.  In the selection of new poems, I found a misstep or two: “Looking for a Friend in a Crowd of Arriving Passengers: A Sonnet” was fourteen lines long (thirteen lines of four syllables, and one of three), but not interesting or funny enough to pull off the joke about not being a sonnet. “Unholy Sonnet #1” is painful in its riff on “Death Be Not Proud” (one of Donne’s Holy Sonnets, hence the title); Mr. Collins’s lack of technical acumen can’t be avoided; he even reaches into Donne’s oeuvre to find Donne’s once-used words, and these so eclipse Mr. Collins’s own efforts that I was rather embarrassed for the poem, and for him.

Still, these are aberrations. For the most part, these new poems, like their predecessors, are pleasant, undemanding morsels, with a few gems tossed in (“Rome in June”). I’m all for accessibility in poetry, especially if it draws in new readers, and that, certainly, Mr. Collins can claim as an achievement.

If you have the earlier books, you may want to check this one out of the library to see if you think the fifty new additions are worth the price of admission.

You can find Aimless Love on the shelves on October 22nd.

*A disclaimer: I received this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program. I was not compensated for this review, nor was the content of the review dictated or approved by any party.

“Tonight, nothing is long enough—“

Robert Creeley’s “The Tunnel” is short and difficult, taking aim at three weighty subjects: love, time, and death. I think I’ve read it twenty times now, and I still don’t grasp the whole meaning. I hold on to one stanza and another slips away. I love its concise complexity, and cleverness. Just look at the first line: “Tonight, nothing is long enough–” — the line ends with a long (em-) dash! The line itself is drawn out, lengthened by its punctuation and the pause that follows the end of every line in poetry. What a mind at work.

Read it here, and please tell me what you make of it!