Discover new books from faculty and alumni authors, including poet Billy Collins '63, Hon. '02. Plus: a student-faculty collaboration in the journal Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters


Horoscopes for the Dead

By Billy Collins '63, Hon. '02

Random House


Interviewed by Christine Gemme


Billy Collins' computer keys have been flying since he left Mount St. James. The author of nine books of poetry has been proclaimed "America's most popular poet," and served as poet laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003, and New York's poet laureate from 2004 to 2006. Collins, who received an honorary degree from Holy Cross in 2002 and delivered that year's Commencement address, is currently a Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College in New York, and a member of several literary advisory boards.

Collins' newest book, Horoscopes for the Dead, is a collection of poems about the topics of everyday life, including perfectionism, marriage, pets, shopping and even noisy children. Holy Cross Magazine talked with Collins to learn more about his poetic observations.


Q. It seems in this book that you gain inspiration from many sources. Do you have a constant flow of ideas bombarding you? Is it hard to "turn that off?" What is your creative process?

A. Nothing can be said to be bombarding me except the relentlessness of everyday experience. And I don't think I've ever really had an "idea." Relativity would be to me an example of an "idea." My default position is "off," so turning off the flow of anything would be alien to me. Nothing hums along. Poetry is harder than writing, as a student of mine once observed. Like most poets, I face long stretches of waiting, walking around, taking notes, staring at bodies of water-all part of a poet's job description. Then once in a while, a bird lands on my pencil and a poem occurs. Lucky me, I think, as I begin waiting for the next one.


Q.  In addition to your own, what poets' work do you think college students should be reading today?

A. I would suggest to students-to anyone really-that they read widely until they find a few poets who appeal to them for some reason or other. All poetry is not for everyone. Find some favorites and stick with them. Personally, I find 83 percent of contemporary poetry annoying or just plain impenetrable. But it would be hard to imagine a life without the remaining 17 percent.


Q.  Which English literature professors were you introduced to at Holy Cross, and how did they inspire you?

A.  I had a wonderful teacher of 17th-century English poetry, [the late] Francis Drumm, a short, fastidious man, always dressed in a three-piece suit complete with a watch fob, which lay comfortably across his vested paunch. He spoke in such a low voice that you had to sit in the first couple of rows to hear him. His followers got to class early to claim the prized front desks. He exposed me to the first poem that ever made me jealous, "The Flea" by John Donne. And Ed Callahan, another "lay" teacher as that then-minority was called, led us students cleverly by the hand into the thickets of modern literature. I started to imitate Gertrude Stein. Without Callahan I would not know that Hemingway's middle name was Miller and that Stein's dog was called "Basket II." Both appeared on a short answer test.


Q.  In the poem "Horoscopes for the Dead" you write about a person who has recently passed away and doesn't have to worry about anything anymore. Are all your poems drawn from close personal relationships? Has anyone ever recognized himself or herself in your work? If so, how did they react?

A.  Most of my poems are autobiographical in that they took place in my mind; that's the extent of it usually. The best poems I find are vaguely impersonal; they rise out of the personal into the metaphoric. Some women think they recognize themselves in my poems, but they are wrong-not because the poem is about someone else, just because it's just me writing a love poem about nobody.


More books from our faculty and alumni:

Coming Home Again

By Philip R. Sullivan, M.D., '53

Foremost Press

This novel revolves around Jud Gerard, a freelance writer/failed novelist who has terminal cancer. As Gerard's illness gets worse, he is surrounded by friends who keep things light with humor while they think of their own mortality.


Parental Alienation, DSM-5 and ICD-11

Edited by William Bernet, M.D., '63

Charles C. Thomas Publisher

Through the clinical studies and real-life accounts offered in this non-fiction book, the authors define and study the phenomenon known as parental alienation, a result of high-conflict divorce-and present it as an important mental health issue rather than a minor aberration in the life of a family dealing with the end of a marriage.


The Holy Pentekostarion

By Rev. Robert F. Slesinski '72

Eastern Christian Publications

This new book in Fr. Slesinski's series is an exercise in mystagogical catechesis that offers theological reflections on Holy Week, Pascha, the Holy Ascension and Pentecost. It ends with
an epilogue on the Feast
of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

The Commandments We Keep

By Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi '70

Ave Maria Press

Faith is the core value in this third of four pastoral commentaries. Monsignor Vaghi, pastor of the Little Flower parish in Bethesda, Md., enlightens the reader on how one can embody
the spirit of the Ten Commandments in daily life.


Engaging South Asian Religions

Edited by Mathew N. Schmalz, Associate Professor of Religious Studies

State University of New York Press

By using the themes of boundaries, appropriations and resistances, this book offers insight into the dynamics and diversity of Western approaches to South Asian religions and the indigenous responses to, involvements with, and influences on them.


By Kyle Murphy '07

Simon & Schuster

Kyle Murphy (under the pen name Karsten Knight) tells the story of Ashley Wilde, a high school sophomore reincarnated from an ancient Polynesian goddess. Wilde is haunted by her evil sister Eve and others in this mythological novel for young adults.


Journal Notes

"The alkene peptide isostere for the D-Ala-D-Ala dipeptide was synthesized via a convergent approach utilizing olefin cross-metathesis. The new isostere was then evaluated for binding to the last resort antibiotic, Vancomycin."

-Assistant Professor of chemistry Bianca R. Sculimbrene, Ryan Quinn '11, Amelia Cianci '08 and Jennifer Beaudoin '09, from the article, "Synthesis of a D-Ala-D-Ala peptide isostere via olefin cross-metathesis and evaluation of vancomycin binding," in the journal Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters


What does it mean?

As a synthetic organic chemist, Sculimbrene's goal is to come up with new ways to make molecules, and she tries to choose molecules that can be used to study something of interest. "In this project," she says, "we developed a new synthesis of peptide isosteres using a Nobel Prize-winning reaction (Olefin cross-metathesis)." Once the team developed a successful synthesis, they used the peptide isostere to study the weakness of Vancomycin-often referred to as the "antibiotic of last resort" for serious infections-against resistant bacterial strains. "As resistant strains of bacteria have emerged, it is important for researchers to understand why the bacteria are no longing responding to the drug, so that better pharmaceuticals can be created," Sculimbrene says.