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Nine Horses, Billy Collins’s first book of new poems since Picnic, Lightning in 1998, is the latest curve in the phenomenal trajectory of this poet’s career. Already in his forties when he debuted with a full-length book, The Apple That Astonished Paris, Collins has become the first poet since Robert Frost to combine high critical acclaim with broad popular appeal. And, as if to crown this success, he was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States for 2001–2002, and reappointed for 2002–2003.
What accounts for this remarkable achievement is the poems themselves, quiet meditations grounded in everyday life that ascend effortlessly into eye-opening imaginative realms. These new poems, in which Collins continues his delicate negotiations between the clear and the mysterious, the comic and the elegiac, are sure to sustain and increase his audience of avid readers.
From the Hardcover edition. less
Random House Publishing Group; August 2011 ISBN 9781588362780 Download in secure EPUB or secure PDF format
Title: Nine Horses
Author: Billy Collins
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The Country I wondered about you when you told me never to leave a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches lying around the house because the mice
might get into them and start a fire. But your face was absolutely straight when you twisted the lid down on the round tin where the matches, you said, are always stowed.
Who could sleep that night? Who could whisk away the thought of the one unlikely mouse padding along a cold water pipe
behind the floral wallpaper gripping a single wooden match between the needles of his teeth? Who could not see him rounding a corner,
the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam, the sudden flare, and the creature for one bright, shining moment suddenly thrust ahead of his time—
now a fire-starter, now a torchbearer in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid illuminating some ancient night. Who could fail to notice,
lit up in the blazing insulation, the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces of his fellow mice, onetime inhabitants of what once was your house in the country?
Velocity In the club car that morning I had my notebook open on my lap and my pen uncapped, looking every inch the writer right down to the little writer’s frown on my face,
but there was nothing to write about except life and death and the low warning sound of the train whistle.
I did not want to write about the scenery that was flashing past, cows spread over a pasture, hay rolled up meticulously— things you see once and will never see again.
But I kept my pen moving by drawing over and over again the face of a motorcyclist in profile—
for no reason I can think of— a biker with sunglasses and a weak chin, leaning forward, helmetless, his long thin hair trailing behind him in the wind.
I also drew many lines to indicate speed, to show the air becoming visible as it broke over the biker’s face
the way it was breaking over the face of the locomotive that was pulling me toward Omaha and whatever lay beyond Omaha for me and all the other stops to make
before the time would arrive to stop for good. We must always look at things from the point of view of eternity,
the college theologians used to insist, from which, I imagine, we would all appear to have speed lines trailing behind us as we rush along the road of the world,
as we rush down the long tunnel of time— the biker, of course, drunk on the wind, but also the man reading by a fire,
speed lines coming off his shoulders and his book, and the woman standing on a beach studying the curve of horizon, even the child asleep on a summer night,
speed lines flying from the posters of her bed, from the white tips of the pillowcases, and from the edges of her perfectly motionless body.