Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems

by Billy Collins

Paperback, 2012





Random House Trade Paperbacks (2012)


In this new collection, "America's most popular poet" covers the everlasting themes of love and loss, life and death, youth and aging, solitude and union.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jnwelch
horoscopes for the dead by Billy Collins is a collection of his recent poetry. I've read a lot of his prior to this, and I suppose some of the "newness" of his style has worn off. So many of these poems seemed slight to me, anchored by some observation in his daily life - e.g. what to make of two
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chairs near a lake that no one ever sits in. Some observations were intriguing - what do birds make of another bird specie's cries, do they understand them, or is it like listening to people speaking a foreign language? A man or a woman can and sometimes will abandon a dog, but a dog will never abandon them. A sky reflected in a mirror, his daughter's drawing of a scallion.

But I kept wishing he'd dig his teeth into something meatier - social ills, poverty, war. He does take on war briefly: "There was talk of war this morning . . . but there's nothing I can do about that/except to continue my walk in the woods/conversing with my hand-" Conversing with what?! Well, he's made his hand into "the head of a duck/the kind that would cast a silhouetted/profile on a white screen . . . so benign an activity that if everyone did this/perhaps there would be no wars . . ." Hmm, a man in the woods talking to his duck head hand is a little too far out there for me.

But picking one like that from a good collection is unfair, and my longing for more "depth" could be my mistake, not his. He's like some of the ancient Chinese and Japanese poets, e.g. Wang Wei, Ryokan, Basho, Han Shan, making beautifully crafted poems based on simple observations. Centuries and centuries later, we're still reading all of those poets.

And there are times in this book when he took me somewhere new and wonderful, like "the department of dark and pouring rain." I loved matching up Zeno's paradox, that an object moving through space never reaches its destination because it's always limited to cutting the distance to its goal in half, with St. Sebastian - did the arrows ever reach him? All this while Collins is ordering a dinner in a restaurant.

He first captured my heart years ago with his humor. Yes, poetry need not always be solemn and reading it need not be like doing your chores. I'm still shakiing my head over his remarkable poem based on enthusiastic product descriptions in a Victoria's Secret catalog. Masterful. And he has some laugh out loud ones here, like his riff on overhearing a conversation, "She said like give me a break." Not, give me a break, but like give me a break. What exactly does that mean? I also got a kick out of this one, entitled, "Feedback":

The woman who wrote from Phoenix
after my reading there

to tell me they were all still talking about it

just wrote again
to tell me that they had stopped.

So maybe the fairest thing to say is there are some hits and some misses in this collection. At one point he says a poet is lucky if he creates three flawless poems in a lifetime. In my view he's already exceeded that. He remains our most accessible poet, and spending time with him once again may not have been flawless, but it was a pleasure.
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LibraryThing member rmckeown
Whenever a new collection of poetry by Billy Collins appears, I drop everything on my TBR list and read. I have already been through this volume three times, and I absolutely love nearly very poem in it.

I met Mr. Collins last year in Louisville, KY, and had him sign a paperback copy of the
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collection, Picnic, Lightening, which has my favorite Collins poem in it, “Shoveling Snow with the Buddha.” As I have written before, if I can ever write a poem that someone who knows says, “It reminds me of Billy Collins,” I will consider myself a poet.

About 20 poems are starred, and it was quite a struggle to emerge with one to reproduce here, but I did it. “Two Creatures” represents everything I love about poetry, everything I love about Billy Collins, and everything I aspire to in my own work:

"The last time I looked, the dog was lying
on the freshly cut grass
but now she has moved under the picnic table.

I wonder what causes her to shift
from one place to another,
to get up for no apparent reason from her spot

by the stove, scratch one ear,
then relocate, slumping down
on the other side of the room by the big window,

or I will see her hop onto the couch to nap
then later find her down
on the Turkish carpet, her nose in the fringe.

The moon rolls across the night sky
and stops to peer down on the earth,
and the dog rolls through these rooms

and onto the lawn, pausing here and there
to sleep or to stare up at me, head in her paws,
to consider the scentless pen in my hand

or the open book on my lap.
And because her eyes always follow me,
she must wonder, too, why

I shift from place to place,
from the couch to the sink
or the pencil sharpener on the wall –

two creatures bound by the wonderment
though unlike her, I have never once worried
after letting her out the back door

that she would take off in the car
and leave me to die
behind the solid locked doors of this house." (53-54)

No comment necessary. If you read this and don’t get it, I am sorry. Keep trying. Perhaps one day, it will settle into your mind, and you will know. 5 stars.

--Jim, 5/1/11
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LibraryThing member debnance
A Billy Collins poem is very clearly a Billy Collins poem. The characters in a Billy Collins poem live regular lives and say regular things and eat regular food and do regular things. But there is always a twist, a what-if, a if-only. Beautiful little poems that can be read and enjoyed by old
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people or very young people. A little sadness, a little laughter.
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LibraryThing member DonnaMarieMerritt
Love Collins, but I did prefer his SAILING ALONE AROUND THE ROOM to this one. He (at least, for me) did not come alive until part 3 of the book, which had tremendous lines and words and images.
LibraryThing member viviennestrauss
excellent collection!
LibraryThing member wanderlustlover
This was a gift from my best friend for Christmas, but I didn't read it until last night/this morning while in a really space in my head -- it turned out to be exactly what I needed. It's gorgeous and I smiled over and over about the references to Dante and John and everything. I haven't read Billy
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Collins before, but I'm definitely sure there will be many more in my future if I have anything to say about it.
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