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Likely Stories : Whale Day, by Billy Collins

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry.

It has been a while, but, at last I received the latest collection of poetry by Billy Collins.  Whale Day is another magnificent collection by this talented poet.  My only problem is trying to narrow down the selections for this wonderful introduction.

I will begin with the title poem, “Whale Day.”  “Today I was awakened by strong coffee and the awareness that the earth is busy with whales even though we can’t see any unless we have embarked on a whale watch, / which would be disappointing if we still couldn’t see any. // I can see the steam rising from my tallow cup, / the usual furniture scattered about, / and even some early light filtering through the palms. // Meanwhile, thousands of whales are cruising along at various speeds under the seas, // crisscrossing one another, / slaloming in and out of the Gulf Stream, / some with their calves traveling alongside—such big blunt heads they have! // So is it too much to ask that one day a year be set aside for keeping in mind while we step onto a bus, / consume a ham sandwich, / or stoop to pick up a coin from a sidewalk the multitude of these mammoth creatures coasting between the continents, some for the fun of it, / others purposeful in their journeys. // all concealed under the sea, / unless somewhere one breaks the surface with astonishing upheaval of water and all the people in yellow slickers rush to one side of the boat to point and shout and wonder how to tell their friends about the day they saw a whale?” (26-27).
Next is “Banana School” The day I learned that monkeys as well as chimps, baboons, and gorillas all peal their bananas from the other end and use the end we peel from as a handle, / I immediately made the switch. // I wasted no time in passing this wisdom on to family, friends, and even strangers as I am now passing it on to you—a tip from the top, / the banana scoop, / the inside primate lowdown. // I promise: once you try it you will never go back except to regret the long error of your ways. // And if you do not believe me, swing by the local zoo some afternoon with a banana in your pocket and try peeling it in front of the cage of an orangutan or a capuchin monkey, / and as you begin, / notice how the monkeys stop what they’re doing, if they are doing anything at all, to nod their brotherly approval through the bars. // Better still, / try it out on the big silverback gorilla. / See if you can get his dark eyes to brighten a bit as the weight of him sits there in his cage the same way Gertrude Stein is sitting in that portrait of her she never liked by Picasso.” (37-37).

If you are one of the few unfamiliar with Billy Collins and Whale Day, this is a perfect time to remedy this oversight. 5 stars

Likely Stories is a production or KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and Happy Reading!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.