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Going Ballistic
stefani kuo 13 book reviewer
May 24, 2012

Witty, humorous, imaginative, and most of all, accessible to all, Billy Collins’ Ballistics is one of the funniest and most relatable poetry collections that you will ever come across.

Revolving around the ordinary subjects of love, death, introspection, and, ironically, the art of poetry, Ballistics pulls you out of the hustle and bustle of the modern day and allows you to contemplate the simple things in life, such as “Hippos on Holiday:”

I love their short legs and big heads,
the whole hippo look.
Hundreds of them would frolic
in the mud of a wide, slow-moving river…

As a high school student who has often questioned the idea of “Great American literature,” I found myself laughing uncontrollably at poems such as “The Great American Poem” and “The Effort.”

Poking fun at poetry itself and the enigmatic nature of poetry analysis, these poems pinpoint the often-confusing question that drives readers away from poetry: “What is the poet trying to say?”

Showing that poetry need not be moralizing or “great,” Collins creates a personal connection with his reader, a link that makes poetry a conversation.

And yet, despite the humor in his words, he forces the reader to think about the words themselves, and the possible complexity of simple language.

For example, in every other line in his poem “Tension,” we encounter the word “suddenly.” It is noticeable and, in fact, irritating, as Collins attempts to make the point to “never use the word suddenly just to create tension.”

Or take his shortest poem in Ballistics, “Divorce.” Consisting of four short lines with no explicit character in mind or direct address of the reader, this piece brings out an imaginative scene of a couple getting a divorce, with their lawyers sitting beside them:

Once, two spoons in bed,
now tined forks

across a granite table
and the knives they have hired.

Bringing poetry to life not only by eliciting laughter from the reader, Ballistics, as a whole, creates a sense of completion, beginning, and ending with two poems, “August in Paris” and “Envoy,” that directly address the reader. By doing this, Collins pulls you in, as if he were searching for you by asking: “where are you, reader?”

Finally, he sets the book on a journey of its own, allowing this “little book” to become an entity itself, “time to be regarded by other eyes.”

Collins, former United States Poet Laureate (2001-2003) and Poet Laureate of New York State, will be visiting campus beginning on October 4. He will be reading to the entire school as well as attending classes and talking with students.

Collin’s highly anticipated appearance will continue the series of visiting poets, first inaugurated with W.S. Merwin last fall.