Published in 2002, Nine Horses features the poems written with wit, fervor, and intelligence by America’s Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003 Billy Collins. Simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking, his poems welcomed back many lovers of literature and introduced the art form to people who have remained aloof from it.
The book is divided into four sections, with 11 poems in the first section, 12 in the second, 13 in the third, and 14 in the last. As with his other collections, Nine Horses begins with an epigraph and a poem for the reader. The epigraph Collins used comes from Thomas de Quincey. The introductory poem he wrote is entitled Night Letter to the Reader.
The introductory poem welcomes the reader to Collins’s poetics in a way that is gentle and subtle. In the poem, Collins speaks as his illusory poetic self and questions his own motives for writing poetry. He muses into the darkness, describing the night using his insomniac-ridden persona. At one point, his persona questions the reader brazenly with the lines “[…]but now I am wondering if you are even listening//and why I bother to tell you these things/that will never make a difference,/flecks of ash, tiny chips of ice.”
Collins’s persona arrives at the notion that the motivation for poetry is not defined by the reader’s need to be informed, but by the poet’s need to inform. The poem notes his need to inform and inform immediately in the lines “[…]and that at one point, the moon,/looking like the top of Shakespeare’s//famous forehead,/appeared, quite unexpectedly,/illuminating a band of moving clouds.” The sharp contrast between the ephemeral quality of moving clouds and the timelessness of Shakespeare gives the poem its range and depth, allowing the reader to move through the rest of the collection with the knowledge that the rest of the poems in the anthology were written with an eye that did not miss out on anything.
About Billy Collins
Billy Collins has produced seven volumes of poetry including Sailing Alone Around the Room and The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems. He is a Distinguished Professor of English at New York’s Lehman College. He is currently New York’s Poet Laureate.