Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
John McAuliffeBill Manhire in Conversation with John McAuliffe
(PN Review 259)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Patricia CraigVal Warner: A Reminiscence
(PN Review 259)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Gwyneth Lewis ‘Spiderings’ Ian Thomson ‘Fires were started: Tallinn, 1944’ Adrian May ‘Traditionalism and Tradition’ Judith Herzberg ‘Poems’ translated by Margitt Helbert Horatio Morpurgo ‘What is a Book?’
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PN Review 276
PN Review Substack

This review is taken from PN Review 174, Volume 33 Number 4, March - April 2007.

ALL THE SAME BILLY COLLINS, The Trouble with Poetry (Picador) £8.99

Billy Collins's 'Theme' opens with the speaker feeling a poem coming on:

It's a sunny weekday in early May
and after a ham sandwich
and a cold bottle of beer on the brick terrace,

I am consumed by the wish
to add something
to one of the ancient themes -

This addition to the Muse's trove involves clichés like 'the roaring juggernaut of time', 'Nature's cyclical return', 'the fountain of creativity', 'frosty disregard', and so on. In 'Theme' we have, in fact, all of Collins's tricks: a poem about wanting to write a poem about Big Themes but finding oneself outscaled. At the end the speaker is picking out, 'with [his] index finger/ the melody notes of "Easy to Love"', having claimed his victory for ordinary experience and ordinary language against the crushing weight of the past.

The trouble with Billy Collins's poems is that they are all the same: their tone is the same, their subject is the same and their movement is the same. The tone first: it's a sort of chatty, homely patter that likes to think of itself as unflashy, wise and avuncular, quarrying meaning and wonder from life's trivial incidents. Collins tries to sound weathered and blokey, but he is in fact one of the most slickly packaged poets around.

Then the subject: Collins's poems are about him, and variations of him, even when these variations happen to ...


Searching, please wait... animated waiting image