Horoscopes for the Dead
A reviewer for The New York Times once referred to Billy Collins as “a companionable poet.” In the often snooty world of poets, such a faint encomium might seem almost like an insult. For some poets and critics, purposeful obscuranticism and inaccessibility to general readers is a mark of brilliance, so being “companionable” is hardly a good thing. After all, if the rabble can read you, how good can you be? And, in some circles, confessing a fondness for Billy Collins is tantamount to admitting ignorance of “real” poetry. But, all that notwithstanding, it seems to me that “companionable” is a pretty good thing for a poet to be, especially one as clever as Collins. His poems may seem slight to some, rooted in common details and mundane experiences, but he touches on the big themes in the most human of ways, and he does what Ezra Pound said poets should do: He takes the familiar and makes it new, opening our eyes to things we may have failed to see, like a companion on a hiking trail who points out things we have overlooked. And, like a good travel companion, he can ease the journey, prompting a smile now and then as we trudge the trail together to wherever it is we are bound. If you don’t have such a companion, you’d do well to put this book in your backpack.