Our Poem of the Month, in association with Picador
As a treat for our many customers who love their poetry - and whose varied reading habits mean that we can boast the largest selection of poetry anywhere in London at our Charing Cross Road shop - we're delighted to present the second in our ongoing series of Poems of the Month, in association with Picador.
Picador are one of the UK's foremost publishers of poetry, with a list that features, amongst many others, the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Sean O'Brien, Jackie Kay, Annie Freud, Glyn Maxwell, Paul Farley, Ian Duhig, Robin Robertson and Clive James.
This month's poem is by Billy Collins (below right; photo © Barbi Reed) and is the title poem to his new collection, Horoscopes for the Dead. The poems are typically prompted by the familiar things of the world: dogs, stars, food, love, and marriage, as well as life's local triumphs and disappointments, joys and shames. Collins' gift is to unlock the mysterious in the ordinary, and, in this collection, his inimitable tone - wry, smart, funny, and wise - takes on a darker shade, as the poems declare a deep awareness of transience and mortality.
First published in 1977, Billy has been described by the New York Times as "the most popular poet in America" and by the New Yorker as "a poet of plentitude, irony, and Augustan grace".
He was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003 and New York State poet from 2004 to 2006. He came to even wider public attention in 2002, when he read his specially commissioned poem 'The Names' at a special joint session of the United States Congress held in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001. He is a Distinguished Professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York and is the Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Winter Park Institute, Florida.
In 1997, his collection The Best Cigarette managed the rare feat for a poetry book of making the bestseller lists. When he moved from University of Pittsburgh Press to Random House shortly afterwards, he was offered a six-figure sum for a three-book deal, a deal that was the talk of the literary world.
You can also view a video of Billy reading of of his best-known poems, 'The Lanyard', from The Trouble with Poetry, on the Picador website.
Horoscopes for the Dead
Every morning since you disappeared for good,
I read about you in the daily paper
along with the box scores, the weather, and all the bad news.
Some days I am reminded that today
will not be a wildly romantic time for you,
nor will you be challenged by educational goals,
nor will you need to be circumspect at the workplace.
Another day, I learn that you should not miss
an opportunity to travel and make new friends
though you never cared much about either.
I can't imagine you ever facing a new problem
with a positive attitude, but you will definitely not
be doing that, or anything like that, on this weekday in March.
And the same goes for the fun
you might have gotten from group activities,
a likelihood attributed to everyone under your sign.
A dramatic rise in income may be a reason
to treat yourself, but that would apply
more to all the Pisces who are still alive,
still swimming up and down the stream of life
or suspended in a pool in the shade of an overhanging tree.
But you will be relieved to learn
that you no longer need to reflect carefully before acting,
nor do you have to think more of others,
and never again will creative work take a back seat
to the business responsibilities that you never really had.
And don't worry today or any day
about problems caused by your unwillingness
to interact rationally with your many associates.
No more goals for you, no more romance,
no more money or children, jobs or important tasks,
but then again, you were never thus encumbered.
So leave it up to me now
to plan carefully for success and the wealth it may bring,
to value the dear ones close to my heart,
and to welcome any intellectual stimulation that comes my way
though that sounds like a lot to get done on a Tuesday.
I am better off closing the newspaper,
putting on the clothes I wore yesterday
(when I read that your financial prospects were looking up)
then pushing off on my copper- colored bicycle
and pedaling along the shore road by the bay.
And you stay just as you are,
lying there in your beautiful blue suit,
your hands crossed on your chest
like the wings of a bird who has flown
in its strange migration not north or south
but straight up from earth
and pierced the enormous circle of the zodiac.
'Horoscopes for the Dead' © Billy Collins 2011
July's Poem of the Month
Rachael Boast's 'The Hum' was our first Picador Poem of the Month. Click here to read it and find out more about the author and her debut collection, Sidereal.
Click here to visit Picador's poetry website.