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Aimless Love

This new collection will cause Billy Collins fans to fall in love all over again.

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Aimless Love,
by Billy Collins,
Random House,
288 pages

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Billy Collins has become hugely popular in part because he changed the way readers perceive poetry. Now, with Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems, he is once again changing the way people experience his work, and both new and old fans will be delighted.

Collins has always been masterful at breaking down barriers for readers and employing an everyman’s voice that sounds familiar, perceptive, and prescient. He knows how to write layered, subtly witty poems that anyone can understand and appreciate – even those who don’t normally like poetry.

Those strengths are evident here, where both writer and reader benefit from the careful selection of poems from Collins’s last four books, spanning 2002 to 2011. The strongest poems seem stronger, and every poem feels necessary. The old really does seem new.

The collection opens with the poem “Reader,” where Collins addresses those who might peruse the book – from skimmers to English majors and perfect strangers – as he continues “rushing to the window” or “picking up the phone/ to imagine your unimaginable number.” That familiarity gives one permission and an invitation to enter the poems that follow.  

From there, Collins makes a seamless shift to “The Country,” from the section "Nine Horses," which begins, “I wondered about you.” The continued familiarity forms a bridge that helps new readers delve into the work and explore the subjects and perspective that begin here and run throughout the collection. Experienced readers will also appreciate that shift, the first of many times when poems seem to speak to one another, which heightens their richness and resonance.

A few pages later, the title poem demonstrates another reason why Collins has earned almost rock-star status, enabling him to fill large auditoriums. The poem begins with a bemusing comment that articulates the joy many people feel about the mundane pleasures of life: “This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,/ I fell in love with a wren/ and later in the day with a mouse/ the cat had dropped under the dining room table.”

As the poem progresses, Collins moves from observation to association: “This is the best kind of love, I thought,/ without recompense, without gifts/ or unkind words, without suspicion,/ or silence on the telephone.”

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