Billy Collins is funny, everyone agrees. The birds agree, the bees agree, even the fish in the sea agree: Billy Collins is funny. Yet why do I feel, half an hour after closing a Billy Collins book, a sharp grinding in my stomach, as if I’ve eaten some fruit cake past its sell-by date? His wry, self-mocking poems wouldn’t hurt a fly—but they couldn’t kill a fly, either, even if they tried. Readers who have whetted their appetites for drollery on previous books may open Ballistics and be puzzled.[1] Our Norman Rockwell of sly winks, and elbowing good humor, and straw-hatted, flannel-shirted American whimsy is no longer funny. Worse, some of his new poems take place in Paris.

Billy Collins’s method has been to borrow a dry nugget of fact or some mildly absurd observation and see how far he can go. Say you read that the people of Barcelona...

 
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