cover image Whale Day

Whale Day

Billy Collins. Random House, $26 (144p) ISBN 978-0-399-58975-1

The playful 13th collection from Collins (The Rain in Portugal) is packed with his signature quirky humor and small epiphanies grounded in the everyday. Between poems about the correct way to peel a banana and the imagined embarrassment of an English rose expiring “by degrees of corruption/ in plain sight of all the neighbors passing by” are light meditations on mortality. For Collins, “death is the magnetic north of poetry,” giving his work direction and substance while remaining infused with an inventive lightheartedness. In “My Funeral,” he imagines the attendees of his funeral as animals gathering at the pub after the ceremony, and “it’s even okay/ that the bartender turns out to be a horse.” Moments that are simultaneously ordinary and tender appear throughout the collection, as he confesses that he has already sailed “some time ago/ into the quiet cardigan harbor” of his life. Fans of the former poet laureate of the U.S. will be delighted with this latest, but those new to Collins’s work may find the collection does not dig deeply enough into complex emotion or pain. Agent: Chris Calhoun, Chris Calhoun Agency. (Sept.)