Ballistics : poems

by Billy Collins

Hardcover, 2008





New York : Random House, c2008.


The former U.S. poet laureate and best-selling author of Nine Horses and Around the Room presents a new compilation of his acclaimed poems, some of which have never before been published.

User reviews

LibraryThing member subbobmail
h, Billy Collins, the most popular modern poet laureate, the most amusing one. Here's a man who's not afraid to make jokes in verse, not afraid to be branded unserious. Thank goodness.

The first thing I noticed about Ballistics is how many of its poems are about the act of making poems and the life
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of the poet. Now, this is a pet peeve of mine. Why must so much verse be so very self-referential? Reading such stuff is like watching a DVD that's filled with making-of bonus features but contains no actual movie.

Therefore, I like Collins' other books better, especially Sailing Alone Around The Room. But there are good pieces here, poems that peek through the eyes of others and don't merely rely on Collins' (admittedly charming) quirk-schtick. And when he writes things like "love is just a matter / of leaping out of the frying pan of yourself / into the fire of someone else," I forgive him for quite a lot of navel-gazing.
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LibraryThing member lorsomething
I love Billy Collins and I love this book. It is funny, but also touching, and above all, so honest.
LibraryThing member KathyWoodall
This eighth collection by Billy Collins proves once again that poetry can be both intelligent and intelligible. Through his bestselling books and tenure as US Poet Laureate (2001-2003), Collins has blazed a difficult trail to win the reading public back to poetry. The poems he writes and advocates
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have the reader-friendly quality of "accessibility," much scorned in some academic circles today. Collins himself prefers to call such poetry "easy to enter," maintaining that poems may contain ambiguity and even mystery if only they will first allow the reader a starting point of understanding (i.e., plain English).
Whether in a domestic scene or travelogue, we are given the beckoning portal of universal experience: the pleasures of food, foibles, including those of poets; nature's healing balm; and the perennial striving of love to overcome our innate separateness. Themes light or grave are treated with charm, gentleness, and a sense of humor that is by turns sophisticated, childlike, and self abasing.
An excerpt from the poem "Despair" will sell the reader on Collins' irresistible variety of wit. After referring to "So much gloom and doubt in our poetry," the poet wonders what "the ancient Chinese poets/ would make of all this,/ these shadows and empty cupboards?" The poet's answer to his own question is a meditation containing an upbeat and comic resolve:

Today, with the sun blazing in the trees,
my thoughts turn to the great
tenth-century celebrator of experience,

Wa-Hoo, whose delight in the smallest things
could hardly be restrained,
and to his joyous counterpart in the western provinces,
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LibraryThing member alana_leigh
In Ballistics, the reader will happily find the Billy Collins of his or her previous acquaintance: whimsical, thoughtful, and hauntingly eloquent. As a collection, the poems of Ballistics flow together nicely, but then, there's always something so clearly Collins about his work that I imagine this
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effect could be achieved with any grouping of his work.

While I love poetry, I admit that I'm never quite sure how one should "review" a book of it. I tend to be introduced to poets by others and only then do I purchase a book by a single poet, confident that I enjoy their voice and will eagerly listen to whatever it is he or she has to say. Such is the case with Billy Collins, who is one of my favorite living poets. I almost wish he was more obscure so that such an observation could be deemed interesting, but Collins is well-respected and rightfully so. Since poetry always feels so personal, I find it hard to write up a true review, so I will simply say that I quite enjoyed this collection and here are three of my favorite poems from this work that will have to represent what I love about Billy Collins's poetry.


Go, little book,
out of this house and into the world,

carriage made of paper rolling toward town
bearing a single passenger
beyond the reach of this jittery pen,
far from the desk and the nosy gooseneck lamp.

It is time to decamp,
put on a jacket and venture outside,
time to be regarded by other eyes,
bound to be held in foreign hands.

So off you go, infants of the brain,
with a wave and some bits of fatherly advice:

stay out as late as you like,
don't bother to call or write,
and talk to as many strangers as you can.

"Oh, My God!"

Not only in church
and nightly by their bedsides
do young girls pray these days.

Wherever they go,
prayer is woven into their talk
like a bright thread of awe.

Even at the pedestrian mall
outbursts of praise
spring unbidden from their glossy lips.

"The Mortal Coil"

One minute you are playing the fool,
strumming a tennis racquet as if it were a guitar
for the amusement of a few ladies
and the next minute you are lying on your deathbed,
arms stiff under the covers,
the counterpane tucked tight across your chest.

Or so seemed the progress of life
as I was flipping through the photographs
in Proust: The Later Years by George Painter.

Here he is at a tennis party, larking for the camera,
and 150 pages later, nothing but rictus on a pillow,
and in between; a confection dipped
into a cup of lime tea and brought to the mouth.

Which is why, instead of waiting
for our date this coming weekend,
I am now speeding to your house at 7:45 in the morning
where I hope to catch you half dressed--

and I am wondering which half
as I change lanes without looking --

with the result that we will be lifted
by the urgent pull of the flesh
into a state of ecstatic fusion, and you will be late for work.

And as we lie there
in the early, latticed light,
I will suggest that you take George Painter's
biography of Proust
to the office so you can show your boss
the pictures that caused you to arrive shortly before lunch
and he will understand perfectly,

for I imagine him to be a man of letters,
maybe even a devoted Proustian,
but at the very least a fellow creature,
ensnared with the rest of us in the same mortal coil,

or so it would appear from the wishful
vantage point of your warm and rumpled bed.
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LibraryThing member realbigcat
In Ballistics, Billy Collins former United States Poet Laureate delivers another great collection of poetry. Collins shows his wit and self deprecating humor along with his unique skills of observation. Collins poems prove again worthy of all his accolades. A very good collection.
LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
Having read some of Collins' other collections, I can only say that this work doesn't stand up to his earlier collections. I may be judging this collection slightly more harshly because of my past exposure to his work, but in my defense, I'm also judging it against the many other poetry collections
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I've read. And, without Collins' name, I don't think many of the previoiusly published poems (in high name journals) would have found nearly such prestigious publications. I can only say, if you're new to Collins: start with his earlier works.

As for this collection, all of the poems come from interesting places, and most give a unique view that stands out, thought-wise, admirably. Yet, the emotion is in many cases absent or distanced. And, more bothersome in my own view, few of the lines stand out in such a way as to surprise you or catch your breath. And,still fewer of the poems demand rereading. In other words--I found much of it good, and very little, if any of it, great.

On the whole, this is an interesting collection with interesting thoughts--but, the poetry at the heart of this collection does not stand up to its pedigree, press, or author and publications. I'd like to say otherwise, but in the end, it just felt rather a let-down.
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LibraryThing member bell7
In this book of poems, former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins ruminates on the everyday, love, divorce, solitude, and more.

The poems are free verse with two or three lines per stanza and hardly a rhyme, but full of succinct and memorable images such as in "Divorce": "Once, two spoons in bed, / now
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tined forks // across a granite table / and the knives they have hired." It's not dense, but it's not simple, either, as I ponder the layers of meaning in the imagery. Some of his poems are playful, such as "Adage," which begins, "When it's late at night and branches / are banging against the windows, / you might think that love is just a matter // of leaping out of the frying pan of yourself / into the fire of someone else, / but it's a little more complicated than that." He then proceeds to pick apart love and adages, and cleverly turn their meanings to his purposes. Every now and then, he captured a feeling that I instantly understood but could never put into words, such as a reaction of sorrow and guilt "On the Death of a Next-Door Neighbor": "The harmony of this house, not his, / might be missing a voice, / the hallways jumpy with the cry of the telephone --" This was my first collection of Billy Collins' poems, and won't be the last.
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LibraryThing member rynk
Billy Collins can be simultaneously simple and overwrought. His subjects are typical meditations of old-school verse -- nature, art, food and drink, poetry and poets -- but in droll and deceptively spare language that tries not to lose the reader, just stay a teasing step ahead. A lot of this
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collection is self-referential, first-person, my-life-as-a-poet stuff, but Collins invites you to stay, nap on the couch or watch him rearrange the furniture or chew the scenery. Fun stuff.
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Grand Canyon Reader Award (Nominee — Teen — 2013)


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