I expect to laugh when I read Billy Collins’ poetry. Sitting down with his previous books generally involves some lovely moments of thoughtful reflection, intermingled with quite a bit of chuckling—and a few downright belly laughs. This latest collection, however, has a more serious bent. He still toys with words and makes use of his pointed wit, but the content and tone of the poems are heavier. The poems themselves are still wonderful—poignant, pithy, and unexpected. But the poet who brought us rollicking and playful poems such as “Marginalia,” “The Lanyard,” and “The Trouble with Poetry” is now delving into deeper themes.
The title hints at what lies within. We find the poet standing at the graves of his parents, musing on the thought of unborn children he might have had, comparing the span of his life to that of a mayfly. Even a poem that opens with a playful meditation on the prevention of baldness ends with a wistful longing to crawl into the lap of a now deceased grandfather.
I still prefer Billy Collins’ writing when it makes me laugh. But I would not have wanted to miss this collection of poems. It contains some real gems. I will never again look at half wilted tulips without thinking of them as having “lost their grip on themselves.”