This collection hit the front page of the New York Times its first time out of the blocks in 1999, as the University of Pittsburgh Press, Collins's longtime publisher, denied Random the rights to the poems as the poet tried to jump ship. The two houses and Collins's agent, Chris Calhoun (Dan Menaker is Collins's editor at Random), later worked out a deal that gave Pitt a few more months to ride Picnic, Lightning (1998) and Collins's other books without this culling treading on its sales. As it now appears, the book includes 23 poems from Picnic, more than from any of Collins's previous three books included here. (Work from the early Video Poems and Pokerface is absent.) Collins's poems are generally conveyed by a speaker whose genial, highly literate analogue of earnestness perfectly produces inchoate quotidian restlessness matched by fear-based appreciation of the mundane. A typical Collins poem begins with "How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer," "The way the dog trots out the front door" or the observation that "It is possible to be struck by a meteor/ or a single-engine plane/ while reading in a chair at home" and continues by juxtaposing, say, close descriptions of "the instant hand of Death" and "the rasp of the steel edge/ against a round stone,/ the small plants singing/ with lifted faces." It's a formula that has worked well for Collins, and he does not abandon it in the 20 new poems here. (On-sale date: Sept. 11) Forecast: A reading on NPR's A Prairie Home Companion was the beginning of serious sales for Picnic, Lightning (40,000 copies and counting), while The Art of Drowning has sold 26,000 since 1995, and Questions About Angels clocks in at 21,000 since 1991. Collins's reading tours for this book should help reach even more readers, and some browsers may remember the Times story.
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