Billy Collins' The Rain in Portugal
Book Review by Logan Murdock
In his twelfth collection of poetry, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins steps back into the light with The Rain in Portugal (Random House, 2016). Collins' penchant for off-kilter humor is as evident as ever. Collins compares cats to Newton's Laws of Motion, contemplates how the ruins of Ancient Greece have combatted the laws of gravity, and how Keith Richards talking about blues is the only reason the world hasn't dropped out of orbit into oblivion.
As Collins tells us, cats are objects that tend to stay at rest, and will violently protest being moved onto a knitted throw pillow. In fact, Collins goes so far as betting on the cat over a human being, "who, unlike the cat, is likely to be carrying money." The cat would rather stay in its splendor of sloth.
When the poems shift to Mediterranean architecture, Collins takes on a tone of impatient awe, detailing the solemn fact that "the ruins were taking their time falling apart." The marble columns still, somehow, upright are as nervous as bathers changing in the midst of strangers. "Is not poetry a megaphone held up to the whispering lips of death?" Collins asks us. However, as it turns out, we'll never know the answer. He's already run off into the surf.
After his romp through Grecian columns, Collins pulls us into a metaphysical debate, which would only be conducted by the poet himself. Collins tells us that the world is not supported by "an infinite regression of turtles disappearing into a bottomless forever." In fact, the very thing that hold up our world, the only buffer we have from sure extinction is Keith Richards. As long as Keith Richards keeps talking about the influence of blues on the Stones, we are saved from careening out into the infinite darkness. (Perhaps this is why Mr. Richards is still alive after all of his gallivanting...)
Overall, The Rain in Portugal is a crash-course in wit and imagery that could not have been conjured up by any mind other than that of Billy Collins.