Poignant and Occasionally Comical
"In a while, one of us will
go up to bed
and the other one will follow.
Then we will slip below the surface of the night
into miles of water, drifting down and down
to the dark, soundless bottom
until the weight of dreams pulls us lower still,
below the shale and layered rock"
Firstly, I want to say that I love the Pittsburgh Poetry
Series. Each book is about 100 pages and you can read one book
right before going to bed. Poetry seems to calm my mind and
encourages more vivid dreams.
"The Art of Drowning" is an interesting collection.
It is not as "cartoon" focused as "Questions
about Angels." Although, there is some silliness to be had
in "Nightclub" where we are amused by songs no one
would sing. It was funnier when my husband read it to me. I'm
not sure why. He and I were reading in bed and I asked him to
read me some poems. He liked "The Biography of a
Cloud," especially the lines: "but early one morning
over Arizona it held the distinction of being the only one in
the sky." He loves going to Arizona, so he could easily
imagine the lonely cloud drifting across an open sky.
You hardly imagine that reading poetry in bed would be
anything less than romantic, yet with many of Billy Collins'
poems, this is exactly what happens. Apparently I'm not the only
one who was highly amused by "Nightclub." My husband
was just calmly reading and I was lost in laughter as if there
were some private joke only I was acknowledging.
Many of the poems seem quite intimate, like cozy
conversations with the reader. There is an inner vision and
motion. At times Billy Collins peers into frankness as it looks
back starkly and at other times his matter-of-fact observations
show irony. Then, suddenly we are drowned in nostalgia, awakened
by dread or simply wondering at the sheer imagination it takes
to write the last few lines of "Tuesday."
You have to love the "book recommendations" in
"Canada," or the story of trees reciting poems in
"Fiftieth Birthday Eve." Collins turns poetry into
magic. These are not just words dancing before your eyes, they
are living creatures jumping off the page into our imagination.
His choice of words is like the choice of colors for a painting,
yet the painting is occurring in minds. The better your
imagination, the better the poem. You must submit the canvas for
the artwork. You can remain closed, only seeing the words, or
let the words into your mind and allow them to paint vivid
images, recollection, connect with past memories or propel you
into thinking about the future.
The title of this book refers to a poem called: The Art of
Drowning and it deals with the concept of your life flashing
before your eyes. Here, Billy Collins takes a rather irreverent
look at what happens when you die and why your life might not
necessarily "flash" but might take other forms.
Billy Collins' poems amaze me, not only because he can adjust
his focus in a variety of amusing and out-of-the-box ways. He
amazes due to his ability to make each poem an emotion or a
moment in time, representative of his present condition. There
are moments of longing, the dreams of travel and other places
he'd rather be. There is also a comfort in the present and
common life or solitude when observing nature.
Many poems (in general) make me feel that I am on the outside
looking in. Billy Collins' poems make me feel that I am on the
inside, looking out as Billy Collins observes his world.
He does at times seem to be an observer as words break on the
page. There are undercurrents of emotions surging inside him and
occasionally they break on the page as sarcasm, irony or a sheer
appreciation for being. In "Conversion" he takes us
into the past while in "Death Beds" he takes us into
the future. Here we think about where we will be when we die.
Not something I think about daily, but an interesting concept.
"I would hope for a window,
the usual frame of reference,
a clear sky, or think high clouds,
an abundance of sun, a cool pillow."
"Medium" is stunning because it explains how
Collins would love to write on more surfaces than paper and I'm
sure he realized that each time he writes a poem, he is writing
on our hearts or across our minds and many of his poems are
unforgettable and seep into your soul. Some of the poems will
even drown you in laughter.
Questions About Angels
A Skeleton at a Typewriter
"I suppose I might be different from previous poet
laureates by kind of emphasizing the playful or even screwball
aspects of poetry." ~Billy Collins
Poetry can increase our capacity for viewing the world as a
colorful, imaginative landscape of crisp words and vibrant
images. In "Questions About Angels," Billy Collins
presents the world in an almost animated fashion. At times his
words glide across your mind like slow moving images in a movie
or a long sweep of a lens. At other times, the "movie"
is highly animated and takes on bizarre characteristics.
The first few poems flew by my mind. I was aware of the
content of the poems, they were observations, memories of
childhood. However, it wasn't until I reached "Reading
Myself to Sleep" that I made a connection. While I had
enjoyed the endings of the first few poems, suddenly, I was
relating to emotions and images I had experienced.
"Is there a more gentle way to
go into the night
than to follow an endless rope of sentences
and then slip drowsily under the surface of a page"
Then, I started to notice a unique imaginative twist to many
of the poems and even an occasional tendency towards the macabre
in "Purity." Billy Collins seems to see himself in an
animated world where the laws of life and death don't always
apply. While "Purity" is rather comical and shows a
tongue-in-cheek attitude to the freedom he might be experiencing
in his writing, "The Wires of the Night" is a solemn
animation of death. While the skeleton in "Purity" is
free, "Death" soaks itself into the poets mind and
seems to present an instability and then a calm release from
I had to smile while reading "Wolf" because it was
just rather cute. We find a wolf reading a fairy tale and later
in the evening he is found knocking over houses with his breath.
I am sure this poem has a much deeper meaning. Devouring words
and then acting upon them or perhaps words setting us into
action or leading us to our fate.
While Billy Collins often seems to paint cartoons on the
canvas of our minds ("Love in the Sahara" where a
camel leaves a pack of cigarettes was rather comical) with a
magical twist, the moment of brilliance, for me at least, was on
page 70. He is describing himself as the New York Public
"I would feel the pages of
books turning inside me like butterflies."
What more can I say? This book lover has been charmed.
A Study in Being
"I like writing about where I am,
where I happen to be sitting,
The humidity or the clouds,
The scene outside the window-
A pink tree in bloom,
A neighbor walking his small, nervous dog."
Billy Collins seems to have moments of brilliance within
poems discussing ordinary aspects of everyday living. Is this
part of his charm? I think for someone to find beauty in the
ordinary, you have to have a vivid imagination and transform the
simple into the magnificent.
Collins was reappointed to the post of U.S. Poet Laureate in
the summer of 2002. He travels throughout the country for
readings, lectures and is well loved by his audiences.
While some reviewers don't feel his poetry has beauty, I
think the beauty is when you connect with a specific poem. In
this book, I had to read all the way to page 39 before anything
really "struck" me as amazing. There is a cute poem
about breakfast, a story of fishing and then on page 17 I found:
"no matter what the size the aquarium of one's learning,
another colored pebble can always be dropped in."
I think what I like is the conversational style. Billy seems
to mostly be talking to the reader or explaining a situation
that he enjoyed. There is a casual elegance in his poems. He
invites you to journey with him through the poems, although at
times Collins throws in a highly imaginative sentence or an
entire poem that throws you for an intellectual loop. Billy
Collins vocabulary is stunning all on its own. The way he blends
the words into images and colors is more than impressive.
In "Journal" you can imagine yourself walking in
the dark, downstairs in a robe and trying to compose an entry in
a journal. Any writer knows, you can hardly go to sleep when
thoughts are pouring out of your mind and begging to be dripped
through a pen onto a new page.
My favorite poem in this book was: "I Go Back to the
House for a Book" because anyone who loves reading can
relate to being stranded without a book. Here one part of
himself goes back to the house while another part races off into
the world. He plays with a similar idea in "The Night
House," where his body, heart, mind and soul go to
different areas of the house.
"Moon" is rather interesting. Here, Collins speaks
of our inner child and how even if we donít have a child, we
can care for our inner child. I have to laugh when I read "Paradelle
for Susan," because even the poem sounds nervous. Collins
repeats most of the lines. Apparently a Paradelle is not that
easy to write and it might be a fun challenge to try to write
your own poem in this "fixed form."
Reading the poems in "Picnic, Lightning" might make
you feel slightly poetic yourself.
Pittsburgh Press has issued special limited edition
hardcovers of three of Billy Collins' books: Questions about
Angels, The Art of Drowning, and Picnic, Lightning. I'm thinking
I need to find an autographed copy of "Questions about
Angels." If you are just starting to read poems by Billy
Collins, I'd start with "Questions about Angels."
Billy Collins Poetry Read by Billy Collins - the best way
to experience his poetry!
Billy Collins Reads His Poetry on CD
White Snow, October 30, 2004
"I suppose I might be different from previous poet
laureates by kind of emphasizing the playful or even screwball
aspects of poetry." ~Billy Collins
Collins was reappointed to the post of U.S. Poet Laureate in the
summer of 2002. He travels throughout the country for readings,
lectures and is well loved by his audiences.
Listening to Billy Collins read his poems gave me a new
appreciation for his genius. His poetry increases my capacity
for viewing the world on a new artistic level. While listening,
I had moments of nostalgia as images danced across my mind.
In this CD, you will find many of your favorite poems from many
of his published works. They include:
1. Another reason I don't keep a gun in the house - A story of a
dog barking. He humorously mixes images of a barking dog solo
2. Shoveling snow with the Buddha - Winter work ends with warm
3. Marginalia - An especially enjoyable poem for anyone who
loves to find scribblings in books.
4. Afternoon with Irish Cows - Completely vibrant images. You
can truly see the images poem.
5. Walking across the Atlantic - An imaginative journey while
walking on the water. He imagines what the fish must think about
the bottoms of his feet appearing, disappearing.
6. Intro - An introduction that explains the title of this CD.
7. Consolation - Written to consol himself after canceling a
trip to Europe.
8. Forgetfulness - If you are over 30, this makes complete
sense. An intensely comical poem that will be appreciated by
anyone trying to remember the name of a book or name of the
9. Workshop - Newbies enjoy entertaining Billy Collins with
their artistic expression.
10. Morning - Feet on a cold floor and espresso while the
11. Driving myself to a poetry reading - An analysis of his
feelings as represented
in how he places himself at various points - the car hood and
12. Wolf - A wolf reads a book of fairy tales. This is perhaps
one of my favorite Billy Collins poems. I love the description
of the fur bristling and how he turns each page with his nose.
13. Purity - Explains how he loves to write and drink tea. His
how he writes romantic poetry is almost an interesting insight
into male sexuality.
14. The Art of Drowning - Will you really see your life flash
before your eyes?
15. Nostalgia - "Remember the 1340s?" I love this poem
because it is a humorous visual journey back in time.
16. Candle Hat - A poem about a Goya painting.
17. Sweetalk - Art lovers will enjoy this love poem, especially
the twist at the end.
18. Instructions to the Portrait Artist - Interesting insight
into the poets' love of the intellectual life.
19. Pin-up - Decadent descriptions of murky garages and
20. Flames - Smoky the Bear with his fur gleaming in the sun.
21. Saturday Morning - Casual observations and lazy day moments.
22. The Afterlife - Secrets from the afterlife and how you go to
the place you always thought you'd go. Fun idea.
23. Man in Space - Male/Female relationships.
24. Aristotle - Thoughts about a beginning, middle and an end.
25. Wires of the Night - Especially beautiful recollection about
26. History of Weather - Flower ruffling breezes and heat
shimmering on sand. Images of clouds, rain on battlefields and
snow flurries of Victorian London.
27. Best Cigarette - Remembering his days as a smoker as a lover
their true love.
28. Invention of the Saxophone - Mentions a historical character
from the 13th century.
29. Child Development - Fish work up irregular verbs and
children work on name calling.
30. On Reading in the Morning Paper - Dreams
31.The First Dream - Wind ghosts around the house as he leans
against the door of sleep.
32. Japan - Reading a favorite Haiku.
33. Thesaurus - Lover's in myths and a congregating of word
relatives. I love this one because I love words and Billy
Collins has an especially creative way of exploring word
34. Nightclub - My husband read this to me once and I thought it
Billy Collins' wry wit and his eloquent voice contribute a
comical resonance. His comic timing is impeccable and I finally
understood some of the humor in his poem "Consolation"
about "not" touring Italy. He gives a bit of
background, which changes the entire poem. By the end of this
reading, he has left the audience deliriously giddy with
I love the twists at the end of his poems that instantly
captures profound emotional moments. There is a casual elegance
in his poems. He invites you to journey with him through the
poems, although at times Collins throws in a highly imaginative
sentence or an entire poem that throws you for an intellectual
loop. Billy Collins vocabulary is stunning all on its own. The
way he blends the words into images and colors is more than
If you are in the mood for intellectual beauty, this CD will
give you a deep appreciation for laid back and artistic
If you are already a Billy Collin's fan, Pittsburgh Press has
issued special hardcover limited editions of three of Billy
Collins' books: Questions about Angels, The Art of Drowning, and
Dedicated to Eric who found my Billy Collins book reviews and
thought I'd enjoy this wonderful recording. Thank you! This was
a beautiful gift.
The Best American Poetry 1997
She was like a piece of the sky looking at herself...,
February 26, 2007
"...poetry speaks against an essential backdrop of silence.
It is almost reluctant to speak at all, knowing that it can
never fully name what is at the heart of its intentions. There
is a prayerful, haunted silence between words, between phrases,
between images, ideas and lines." ~ pg. 19
Used books hold within their pages additional mysteries and this
one was no exception. Also, when the first poem in a book makes
you cry, it is almost guaranteed you will be finding additional
poems to love. "That Cold Summer" by Nin Andrews is so
startling in imaginative beauty and many of the poems seem to
flow together with a similar idea.
"Often as children, my friend and I used to pretend we had
wings. Attaching towels to our backs with safety pins, we'd leap
from sofas and chairs, thudding ungracefully on the floor ...But
what is it these angels represent to us if no the ability to
lift off the planet, to escape the pull of gravity? And this, I
think, is one of the reasons I write." ~ Nin Andrews
The Butterfly Effect by Harry Humes presents ideas to ponder as
does Karen Volkman's "Infernal" where she writes:
"The revenant sprawls by the pool
assessing opulent stucco and glossy indigo."
I love the way the poem ends:
"I stay close to the water,
you stay close to the shore."
I thought it was rather intriguing that when I had just read The
Best American Poetry book edited by A.R. Ammons, that I should
open this book and find a "Worldwide Travel
Specialist's" business card right at his poem: "From
Strip." While I wouldn't mind a vacation to New Zealand, I
do find many of the poetry books by David Lehman to be journeys
into many minds and enjoyable escapes into poetry.
"she was, like a piece of the sky looking at herself.
She watched him like a deer caught in the headlights, staring
until he touched her shoulder, and he shuddered.
Colder than snow, she was. Donald said that's why
he invited her in to warm herself. She had a long
wind inside her than fanned the flames a brilliant blue."
~ from Nin Andrew's "That Cold Summer"
~The Rebecca Review