Poetry Review — Whale Day and Other Poems

…for death is the magnetic north of poetry


Whale Day and Other Poems by Billy Collins is the poet laureate’s latest collection of poetry. Collins is an American poet, appointed as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. He is a Distinguished Professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York. Collins was recognized as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library and selected as the New York State Poet for 2004 through 2006. In 2016, Collins was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. As of 2020, he is a teacher in the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton.

Collins has proven himself to be a brilliant poet. Even more so, in his style of writing. Collins is entertaining, witty, and his poetry relates to most people. However, he can not rhyme and has played on that in the past with the collection The Rain in Portugal. In this collection, I was astonished to find a near rhyme in “Sleeping on My Side.” He writes as the reader is an old friend, and he is having a friendly conversation. It is an uncomplicated style, yet the reader can easily recognize the writing as poetry. 

Early on in this collection, a theme arises that is hard to miss — Death and aging. From the poet’s seventy-five-year-old dog to musing on his own mortality, the theme runs through the entire collection. Still, Collins adds his wit to keep the poetry from becoming depressing or, as in “Anniversary,” offers a way to accept and even celebrate the end.  

The collection is not entirely on the above-mentioned theme. “Banana School” shows humor and a look at what we can learn from other species as well as making a crack about Gertrude Stein. In another poem, Collins leaves his wilder days behind by sailing into the quiet cardigan harbor of his life. In the months of the year, April is relieved to find she is not the cruelest month after all. Meanwhile, in Toronto, graduate students are busy translating his poems into Canadian.

Humorous at times, reflective at other times, and even sad at other times, Collins shows that America still has poets that can be in touch with the times and yet remain faithful to the concept of poetry. His writing is highly polished and remarkably colloquial. He can make the reader smile in one poem and tug at his or her heartstrings in another. Collins is truly unique and an American treasure. An outstanding poetry collection for all readers.

Available September 29, 2020

1 Comment

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One response to “Poetry Review — Whale Day and Other Poems

  1. The “uncomplicated style” sounds nice about right now 🙂

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