Review: The Apple That Astonished Paris

The Apple That Astonished Paris
The Apple That Astonished Paris by Billy Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is my second time reading this collection. It is easy to read and clever, though the cleverness is usually cloying. I look for beauty in the poems I read, in particular, the beauty of describing something in a way that transcends the component words. Cleverness does not equal beauty.

The first poem that really got my attention was “Flying to the Funeral.” It opens with both a wonderful depiction of what it feels like to look out a plane at the world below and with that aching feeling where all thoughts veer to a friend who’s died. “. . . as we inch north at hundreds of miles per hour . . . I see only the places from which he is absent:/suburban diagrams where he is not plunging/into the blue dot of a swimming pool;/checkerboard farms where he is not leading/a horse into the darkness of a barn . . . .” The speaker imagines “taverns minus the tune of his voice.” This is a haunting beauty that makes the collection.

In “Remembering Dreams,” I adore the speaker’s description of waking mid-dream: “But the rest of the story vanishes/as if someone had ripped an ancient epic from our hands/leaving us with a fragment, a few hexameters/whose rhythm is drowned out by the beat of daylight.” This poem is also more typical of the collection which has many poems based on art, music, dreams and poetry. Typically, I am not a fan of poems about poetry, much like I’m not a fan of songs about singing.

Overall, I would not consider this a dark collection despite the poem “Flying to the Funeral.” I mention this because the poem I liked the most was also dark. And short. In its entirety, “Cancer:” “When you need to say the word,/it cowers in back of your vocabulary/behind some outdated slang.//And if you try forcing it into the mouth/it lodges in the throat like a fishbone.//My father cannot say it yet./The old man cannot even hear it./He pretends I am saying ‘campfire.'” 
[Check out my other reviews here.]


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