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The Rain in Portugal: Poems by Billy Collins
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The Rain in Portugal: Poems

by Billy Collins

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Anytime I can spend time with the words of Billy Collins, life is good. While this wasn't one of my favorites of the many Collins collections I've read, I leave it with a smile and an appreciation of his talent. ( )
  jphamilton | Mar 6, 2017 |
I read the 'Only child' poem and immediately bought the book to read the rest.
  jon1lambert | Jan 20, 2017 |
I've been a fan of Billy Collins's poetry for quite a few years and have especially enjoyed some of his earlier collections. This one, at least for me, falls a bit short. Collins is known for his down-to-earth style, offset by some startlingly brilliant imagery. [The Rain in Portugal] is heavy on the down-to-earth, even to the point of flatness, and when it varies, it veers into the fantastical or even silly. There are a few gems and selected moments. "Dream Life," for example, begins:

Whenever I have a dream about Poetry,
which is not very often
considering how much I think about her,
she appears as a seamstress
who works in the window of a tailor's shop
in a sector of a provincial city
laden with a grey and heavy sky.

"Hendrik Goltzius's 'Icarus' (1588) is an intriguing comparison of this painting to Breughel's, on which Auden based "Musée de Beaux Arts":

It's hard to read the expression of a pair of legs,
but here we have the horrified face
contorted with regret not unlike the beady-eyed
Wile E. Coyote, . . .

Well, Collins started out well, but he lost me here. The poem picks up again when he imagines Breughel's Icarus "run / backwards to produce an amazing sight--"

a wet boy rising into the sky,
and then a sudden close-up to show the sorrow
or the stupidity, however we like to picture
the consequences of not listening to your father,
of flying too high, too close to the source of heat and light.

This poem is a good example of what works and what doesn't in this collection, the highs and the lows. On the silly end, "The Bard in Flight" imagines Shakespeare as the tipsy traveler in the next seat. Much better is "2128," in which he celebrates the 200th birthday of Donald Hall (another of my favorite poets). "Early Morning" begins with a timely commentary:

I don't know which cat is responsible
for destroying my Voter Registration Card
so I decide to lecture the two of them
on the sanctity of private property,
the rules of nighttime comportment in general,
and while I'm at it, the importance
of voting to an enlightened citizenship.

"Note to J. Alfred Prufrock" is artificial and just plain silly. "December 1" is a touching reverie on the poet's deceased mother's birthday. So, as I said, a mixed and rather disappointing collection. Hopefully the next one will have more of those surprisingly perfect moments that I look forward to in Collins's work. ( )
  Cariola | Dec 2, 2016 |
Mary Oliver is on the verge of overtaking Billy Collins as my favorite poet. His latest collection, The Rain in Portugal disappointed me ever so slightly. While the poems are all good – with most, great – I sensed, in some of the poems -- a loss of the subtle humor that first drew me to Collins. On my second and third readings, I chalked it up to a mood change or some other event. Many authors and readers go through phases over the years. When I was young, I read almost no poetry, but all the science fiction I could find at the Kensington Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Now, I am reading more and more poetry, and I cannot remember the last science fiction novel I have read.

In one of my favorites in this collection, “Thanksgiving,” Collins writes, “The thing about the huge platter / of sliced celery, broccoli florets, / and baby tomatoes you had arranged / to look like a turkey with its tail fanned out / was that all our guests were so intimidated / by the perfection of the design / no one dared disturb the symmetry / by removing so much as the nub of a carrot. // And the other thing about all that / was that it took only a few minutes / for the outline of the turkey to disappear / once the guests were encouraged to dig in, / so that no one would have guessed / that this platter of scattered vegetables ever bore / the slightest resemblance to a turkey / or any other two- or four-legged animal. // It reminded me of the sand mandalas / so carefully designed by Tibetan monks / and then just as carefully destroyed / by lines scored across the diameter of the circle, / the variously colored sand then swept / into a pile and carried in a vessel / to the nearest moving water and poured in-- / a reminder of the impermanence of art and life. // Only, in the case of the vegetable turkey / such a reminder was never intended. / Or if it was, I was too bust slicing up / even more vivid lessons in impermanence / to notice. I mean the real turkey minus its head / and colorful feathers, and the ham / minus the pig minus its corkscrew tail / and minus the snout once happily slathered in mud.” (77-78). While we do have a touch of Buddhism in this poem, which I greatly admire, there is only the merest mote of humor.

From another poem that intrigued me, “Genuflection,” Collins muses an Irish custom of greeting “the first magpie one encounters in the course of a day” (75) a bird “out of usual clime” (75). He writes, “but why wouldn’t every bird merit a greeting? / a nod or at least a blink to clear the eyes-- / a wave to the geese overhead, / maybe an inquiry of a nervous chickadee / a salute in the dark to the hoot of an owl. / And as for the great blue heron, / as motionless in profile by the shore / as a drawing on papyrus by a Delphic priest, / will anything serve short of a genuflection? // As a boy, I worked on that move, / gliding in a black cassock and white surplice / inside the border of the altar rail / then stopped to descend, / one knee touching the cool marble floor / palms pressed together in prayer, / right thumb crossed over left, and never the other way around.” (75-76).

This brings back memories of my days as an altar boy. However, I certainly have no intention of even thinking about giving up on Billy Collins, especially on the strength of a single new collection, The Rain in Portugal. Rather, I want to follow this trail, if it is a trail, and I am sure I will learn something new from this great poet. 4-1/2 stars.

--Jim, 11/13/16 ( )
  rmckeown | Nov 27, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679644067, Hardcover)

From former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins comes a twelfth collection of poetry offering nearly fifty new poems that showcase the generosity, wit, and imaginative play that prompted The Wall Street Journal to call him “America’s favorite poet.”
 
The Rain in Portugal—a title that admits he’s not much of a rhymer—sheds Collins’s ironic light on such subjects as travel and art, cats and dogs, loneliness and love, beauty and death. His tones range from the whimsical—“the dogs of Minneapolis . . . / have no idea they’re in Minneapolis”—to the elegiac in a reaction to the death of Seamus Heaney. A student of the everyday, here Collins contemplates a weather vane, a still life painting, the calendar, and a child lost at a beach. His imaginative fabrications have Shakespeare flying comfortably in first class and Keith Richards supporting the globe on his head. By turns entertaining, engaging, and enlightening, The Rain in Portugal amounts to another chorus of poems from one of the most respected and familiar voices in the world of American poetry.
 
On Rhyme
 
It’s possible that a stitch in time
might save as many as twelve or as few as three,
and I have no trouble remembering
that September has thirty days.
So do June, November, and April.
 
I like a cat wearing a chapeau or a trilby,
Little Jack Horner sitting on a sofa,
old men who are not from Nantucket,
and how life can seem almost unreal
when you are gently rowing a boat down a stream.
 
That’s why instead of recalling today
that it mostly pours in Spain,
I am going to picture the rain in Portugal,
how it falls on the hillside vineyards,
on the surface of the deep harbors
 
where fishing boats are swaying,
and in the narrow alleys of the cities
where three boys in tee shirts
are kicking a soccer ball in the rain,
ignoring the window-cries of their mothers.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 23 Jun 2016 22:03:54 -0400)

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