Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems
WINNER—BEST POETRY—GOODREADS CHOICE AWARDS NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NEWSWEEK/THE DAILY BEAST NATIONAL BESTSELLER Billy Collins is widely acknowledged as a prominent player at the table of modern American poetry. And in this smart, lyrical, and mischievous collection of poetry, which covers the everlasting themes of love and loss, youth and aging, solitude and union, Collins’s verbal gifts are on full display. Note to Readers: adjusting the size of the type on your e-reading device may affect the line formatting of this eBook. We have formatted the eBook so that any words that get bumped to a new line in a poem will be noticeably indented.
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Billy Collins' modern poetry is known for several unique characteristics, one of which is the humorous tone he uses throughout much of his work. As you read through his poetry, we will examine the tone he uses, and why he approaches subjects, like death and poetry, in certain ways. Watch the following video on tone and mood to help prepare for questions on this topic. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following BEST describes the tone Collins uses in this poem about talking to his deceased parents at their grave site?
Imagery is another important aspect of Collins' work. We will explore this aspect of his poetry in depth throughout this curriculet. Watch the video below to get a refresher on this topic. How does the highlighted phrase provide a unique image of pencils in a cup? (This annotation contains a video)
What message does the imagery in "The Straightner" help convey?
Palermo (shown below) is an Italian coastal city known for its beautiful landscape and architecture. (This annotation contains an image)
Collins is known for the way he twists the narratives in his poems. This poem begins with a trip into the the center of Palermo and ends in a surprisingly humorous way. How does it end unexpectedly? Why do you think Collins ends this poem this way?
A flaneur (see below) is a French term for a lounger or stroller--one who strolls aimlessly through a city with no purpose other than to just take in all that is around him and observe others and sites that he sees. The flaneur became an archetype in literature during the 19th and 20th century to highlight the effects of urbanization on man. Instead of hunting, playing sports, or working, the urbanized man of this era wandered through the city streets. (This annotation contains an image)
Collins puts himself into the shoes of a flaneur. In doing so, which of the following BEST identifies the tone that underlies his description of this experience?
"Memento Mori" is a Latin phrase that means (in modern terms) "Don't forget that you have to die!" It became popular during the medieval times and lasted through the Victorian age as a motto for people to live by to remind themselves that death is inevitable and life is short. The impact of the phrase can be seen in art and literature from these time periods. Notice the proportion of the skull to everything else in the painting below. What other works from this time period have you seen that contain this imagery? (This annotation contains an image)
What message does this highlighted image BEST convey?
Collins uses a technique called juxtaposition to create certain effects in his poetry. A juxtaposition in poetry occurs when the poet places two seemingly unrelated objects side by side and compares and contrasts them, usually through imagery. What images and objects in "Thieves" does Collins juxtapose? Why do you think he does this in this poem?
What theme does "The Guest" further develop in this collection of poetry?
The highlighted phrase represents another technique that Collins uses throughout his poetry--irony. The video below explains irony. Why is this highlighted phrase an example of irony? What kind of irony is it? (This annotation contains a video)
What causes Collins to change his point of view in "Good News"?
Part I Quiz
Collins is reading the horoscopes for a friend or loved one who has passed away. This poem is an example of a lament poem in which the author expresses personal grief. They are considered one of the oldest types of poems in world history. The poem found at the link below by Edna St. Vincent Millay is another lament that is written by an American poet. (This annotation contains a link)
Collins and Edna St. Vincent Millay both treat the subject of death in "Horoscope" and "Lament." Which word BEST describes the tone they use in response to their grief?
Notice how Collins juxtaposes two unrelated experiences--Hell and shopping for mattresses--and makes you feel like the two are actually quite similar. What does Collins do in the poem and say to accomplish this effect?
Why does Collins use his imagination to slowly eliminate everything that surrounds him at this lake?
Pay attention to how Collins structures the organization of his poems in relation to one another. "Simple Arithmetic" and "Her" are both about similar themes. Why do you think Collins places these two poems side by side?
Why does Collins pity the "yellow rubber ducky"?
John James Audobon is an American ornithologist (bird scientist) and painter. He created some of the most fascinating and popular images of birds during his time, and they are still used to this day to study North American birds. A picture of one of his works is shown below. (This annotation contains an image)
Why does Collins MOST likely place "Florida" and "A Question about Birds" next to each other in this collection?
Collins is best known for how he takes common experiences and sees them through an imaginative lens. He believes this is a shared common human experience, and it tells you what he thinks is important in life. In what ways do you relate to him in this poem? What particular lines do you think best show his imaginative side?
In light of the last two poems, what theme does Collins MOST likely convey through the ending of "The Girl"?
Collins obviously does not achieve the desired results he wants as he paints. But his attitude conveys a message to us. Think for a moment about his tone. How does this relate to the theme he conveys in this poem?
Part II Quiz
What message does Collins BEST communicate through this poem?
Collins is also known for writing poetry about poetry--both the process of writing and the act of reading and enjoying it. This poem is laced with phrases from John Donne's "The Sun Rising"--a poem in which Donne proclaims his love to his lover while lying in bed at the break of dawn. Read this poem by following the link below. After you have read it, you will begin to hear how Collins borrows language and manipulates some of it from Donne's famous poem. (This annotation contains a link)
What element in this poem BEST creates a surprising effect?
This poem alludes to Collins' life and purpose as a poet. What does he believe is his job as a poet? Do you agree that poets serve this purpose within their field of work?
How does Collins BEST create intrigue throughout this poem?
Collins is obviously annoyed and upset in "Hangover." It's important to distinguish, though, what an author says from what he really means. We know that he won't really execute these children, but the purpose of this poem is to show you how strongly he feels. Not all poets display this kind of emotional transparency, but Collins does. How does this approach make you feel about reading his poetry?
Zeno, an ancient Greek philosopher, devised several paradoxes. One in particular, called the Arrow Paradox, is most likely the one that the bearded man is referring to. The paradox is as follows: If everything when it occupies an equal space is at rest, and if that which is in locomotion is always occupying such a space at any moment, the flying arrow is therefore motionless (Aristole's Physics).
St. Sebastian is an early Christian martyr who was killed for his beliefs. He is depicted in art and literature as being tied to a tree and shot with arrows. (This annotation contains an image)
Based on the highlighted passage, how does Collins MOST likely feel about the "Table Talk" that he sits through?
The art of poetry, one might argue, is to create a new way of looking at age old things. Many poets accomplish this through the figurative language they use. Consider this highlighted phrase. How does Collins offer a fresh perspective on mountain ranges through this imagery?
What statement about time does Collins make in "The Symbol"?
Collins touches upon several themes. As you read more and more of his work, you see themes start to emerge. He carefully places, poems, too so that themes emerge at various points in this work. Watch the video below on emerging themes. What theme does the highlighted phrase most convey? Have you seen this theme in other poems in this work? (This annotation contains a video)
How does the structure of this poem contribute to its meaning?
Is it strange to hear an artist talking about another type of art form? This is exactly what Collins does. He is poet, but makes it very clear that he struggles with painting, watercolors, and visual art. Why do you think he reveals this to us?
What theme in "Drawing You from Memory" does "Riverside, California" help to refine?
Compare this poem to the other poems in which Collins talks about death. Does his tone towards mortality change? Is this one more or less humorous than the rest?
What is the aesthetic impact Collins intends to have through his conversations (and letters) with the dead?
The rabbit duck paradox is a famous drawing (seen below) that presents an ambiguous image of a duck and rabbit. Depending on how you look at it, you will either see a duck or a rabbit. By now, you will have recognized, too, that paradoxes are a motif in Collins' work (think back to "Table Talk"). Motifs are reoccurring images or ideas that help reinforce themes. What theme do you think the "paradox" in this poem reinforces? (This annotation contains an image)
Watch this man's reading of "Night and Day" and answer the question that follows. (This annotation contains a video)
What tone does the reader above emphasize in his reading "Night and Day"?
"The Tortoise and the Hare" fable has been mentioned several times. This qualifies it as a motif. What theme does Collins most likely want to communicate through this motif?
The "Meatball Department" is a metaphor for Collins' unwillingness to
Here's a duck, again. Think about the several occurrences where you've seen a duck (or even birds, for that matter). There is the rubber duck. The duck in the paradoxical drawing. And now, this duck. What does this silhouette of a duck represent in this poem?
What theme does the "Silhouette" duck help convey in this poem?
Collins' self-awareness while writing a poem can be seen in these lines. What does he acknowledge? Why does he choose to take this poem a different direction?
Both "After I Heard You Were Gone" and "Roses" are placed side by side to emphasize how Collins questions something. What exactly is he questioning?
"Slow and steady wins the race!" is an obvious theme in Collins' work. Did you catch how this "snail-like perseverance" connects to the tortoise motif that appears throughout this work? What is Collins trying to tell us about time?
Part III Quiz