By Elizabeth Lund
Nothing in Billy Collins’s 12th book, The Rain in Portugal (Random House, $26), is exactly what readers might expect, and that’s the charm of this collection. Collins, a former U.S. poet laureate and one of the country’s most popular poets, has always known how to combine offbeat observations and dry wit. Yet here he adds so many subtle twists — beginning with the book’s title — that he and readers sidestep from the familiar into a more fanciful landscape. Sometimes the surprises arise from a mundane moment, as when the speaker describes his black cat or muses about conversations with the sister he never had. At other times, the speaker starts with an unusual premise — Shakespeare on a plane, Keith Richards holding up the world — that leads to curious conclusions.