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This review is taken from PN Review 236, Volume 43 Number 6, July - August 2017.

Cover of The Rain in Portugal
David C. WardMr Reliable Billy Collins, The Rain in Portugal (Picador, 2017) £9.99

Billy Collins is impervious to criticism. At least he gives the appearance of being impervious to criticism: he continues to roll out, on a regular basis, collections of poetry that get good sales and disparaging reviews. Perhaps, privately, he is hurt that he doesn’t get better reviews and that his work isn’t considered on a par with those he namechecks in The Rain in Portugal: Stevens, Bidart, Heaney, Donald Hall, Szymborska, et al. I like the idea of an enraged Collins destroying his study after skimming the latest review (perhaps this one!) which has arrived (ping!) in his inbox. Sadly, the scenario seems unlikely. Dramatic and emotional extremes do not appear to be part of the Collins’s make-up. One suspects that his temperament is as placid as his verse and that Billy Collins’s poetic career continues rather like a Billy Collins’s poem. It meanders along in a drowsy, frictionless way with very few notable views or memorable stopping points along what is now a well-worn path. It takes him somewhere – the Poet Laureateship, for instance – and brings him back again so that in a few months he can venture out on the same journey again. He can probably do it in his sleep. As, by now, can his readers.

His eleventh collection, The Rain in Portugal, demonstrates all of Collins’s fey, off-hand mannerisms and tics. Collins doesn’t so much punch through the paste board masks of appearances and received opinions as suggest the possibility that he might, maybe, think about examining life ...


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