I was speaking with a friend about Billy Collins last week. This person pointed out that there is remarkably little substance in some of Mr. Collins's poetry. And that is a fair evaluation. Some of them are sheer fluff--not the stuff of eternity, hardly, one might say, the stuff of fifteen minutes.
However, it is important to bear in mind that for a poet every poem stands in the same place as a novel does for a novelist. That is not to imply equity of effort and endeavor, but rather the fact that each new poem rises to the surface and it is a tabula rasa, ripe and ready to move into meaning or into play. While some of Mr. Collins's poems are undoubtedly slight--they play and they show us play in a wonderful, liberating way--there is play with language, image, and individual words. Is it profound? Probably not, but it is meaningful and it does give a sense of diversity to the poems--it reflects mood and moment--there is no attempt to hide from what is happening at the time the poem is written, nor is there the false pose of many classic poets that seeks to enshrine poetry in a kind of unbreakable plastic case.
I would rather a thousand Billy Collins's with his occasionally excesses and underplays, than ten other lofty, portentous, and ultimately pretentious poets.
Yes, some poems are slight--but in what I have read so far, they are more than balanced by poems that make sudden turns and poems that, while slight at the surface slip in past the defenses to make a statement. That is poetry of worth--poetry that means despite the fact that we have all of our defenses up.