“Ballistics:” A Poetic Blast

BallisticsBilly Collins(Random House)4 StarsPublished in September 2008, “Ballistics” associates the reader with universal themes – love, death, solitude, youth and aging. These subjects guide the reader through the various nuances of Collins’ imagination. In “Ballistics,” Collins writes of “a child that walks between a father’s footsteps like the trick poodle on television; a four-moon planet that provides enough light to write a letter at midnight; or, a high speed photograph of a bullet piercing a book.”Collins’ great talent is his ability to draw abstract images such as these and tie them into the deeper themes underscoring the entire book. The poems in “Ballistics” are successful because Collins is often in direct dialogue with his readers. In the poem “August in Paris,” Collins directly acknowledges the presence of the reader, saying, “But where are you, reader, / who have not paused in your walk / to look over my shoulder / to see what I am jotting in this notebook?” He challenges the notion of poetry as existing solely in the realm of the private and internal and this is the reason why Collins presided as the most public of poets as Poet Laureate in the Library of Congress from 2001 to 2003.Collins’ poetry is consistently successful through the use of everyday subjects. Without using complex imagery, abstractions and the obscure, the poems in “Ballistics” shed light on the obvious yet overlooked objects and happenings. In the poem “Brightly Colored Boats Upturned On the Banks of the Charles,” Collins reflects on the tranquil beauty of the racing sculls of a crew team.Many of the poems in “Ballistics” are didactic in that they tend to teach some moral or lesson indirectly.In the poem “Ballistics,” Collins makes a good distinction between the inevitable movement of time and the ability to take pleasure in each passing moment. Collins writes, “When I came across the high-speed photograph / of a bullet that had just pierced a book / the pages exploding with the velocity…” What follows efficiently instructs the reader that age comes on quickly, therefore each moment should be savored and captured as distinctly as the details in a high-speed photograph. Take Collins’ suggestion on solitude and spend some time alone – maybe read a few of his poems while you’re at it and perhaps you’ll find that you’re not so alone after all.