Book Reviews: Billy Collins Poetry Collections

While on a bit of a poetry spree, I picked up some books by former U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins, including: The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems, Horoscopes for the Dead, Ballistics, Sailing Alone Around the Room, and Picnic, Lightning. I am a big fan of Collins’ work and had high expectations that were more than met by each collection. Each of them were filled with the quirky humor, wry observations and moments of lyrical musings that I have come to expect from Billy Collins. His accessible, almost conversational, style makes his work deceptively easy to take in and enjoy and yet, despite the simplicity of his diction and tone, his poems are full of thought-provoking wit and insight that I truly enjoy.

Horoscopes for the Dead: PoemsHoroscopes for the Dead: Poems by Billy Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed the entire collection but, for me, the highlights of Horoscopes for the Dead were “Grave,” the surprisingly sensual “Genesis,” and the incredibly funny “Hangover.”

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Picnic, LightningPicnic, Lightning by Billy Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I particularly enjoyed: “Portrait of the Reader with a Bowl of Cereal,” “Journal,” and “Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes.”

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The Trouble With Poetry - And Other PoemsThe Trouble With Poetry – And Other Poems by Billy Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I highly recommend the entire collection but I especially enjoyed: “You, Reader,” “Theme” and the titular poem, “The Trouble with Poetry”

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Sailing Alone Around the RoomSailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sailing Alone Around the Room is an excellent introduction to Billy Collins’ work because it combines new poems with selections from past collections. There is so much to love about this book but some of my favorites included: “Another Reason I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House,” “The Lesson,” “Introduction to Poetry,” “The Death of Allegory,” “Forgetfulness,” “First Reader,” “Madmen,” “Sonnet” (my favorite Billy Collins poem of all time) and “Flight of the Reader”

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The Trouble With Poetry

By Billy Collins

The trouble with poetry, I realized
as I walked along a beach one night –
cold Florida sand under my bare feet,
a show of stars in the sky –

The trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank
more baby rabbits
hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.

And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world.

And there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks.

Poetry fills me with joy
and I rise like a feather in the wind.
Poetry fills me with sorrow
and I sink like a chain flung from a bridge.

But mostly poetry fills me
with the urge to write more poetry.
to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame
to appear at the tip of my pencil.

And along with that, the longing to steal,
to break into the poems of others
with a flashlight and a ski mask.

And what an unmerry band of thieves we are,
cut-purses, common shoplifters,
I thought to myself
as a cold wave swirled around my feet
and the lighthouse moved its megaphone over the sea
which is an image I stole directly from Lawrence Ferlinghetti –
to be perfectly honest for a moment –

The bicycling poet of San Francisco
whose little amusement park of a book
I carried in a side pocket of my uniform
up and down the treacherous halls of high school

Genesis
By Billy Collins

It was late of course,
just the two of us still at the table
working on a second bottle of wine

When you speculated that maybe Eve came first
and Adam began as a rib
that leaped out of her side one paradisal afternoon.

Maybe, I remember saying
because much was possible then,
and I mentioned the talking snake
and the giraffes sticking their necks out of the ark,
their noses up in the pouring Old Testament rain.

I like a man with a flexible mind, you said then,
lifting your candlelit glass to me
and I raised mine to you and began to wonder
what life would be like as one of your ribs-
to be with you all the time,
riding under your blouse and skin,
caged under the soft weight of your breasts,

Your favorite rib I am assuming,
if you ever bothered to stop and count them

Which is just what I did later that night after you had fallen asleep
and we were fitted tightly back to front,
your long legs against the length of mine,
my fingers doing the crazy numbering that comes of love.

Hangover
by Billy Collins

If I were crowned emperor this morning,
every child who is playing Marco Polo
in the swimming pool of this motel,
shouting the name Marco Polo back and forth

Marco Polo

Marco Polo

Would be required to read a biography
of Marco Polo-a long one with fine print-
as well as a history of China and of Venice,
the birthplace of the venerated explorer

Marco Polo

Marco Polo

After which each child would be quizzed
by me then executed by drowning
regardless how much they managed
to retain about the glorious life and times of

Marco Polo

Marco Polo

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About Ciarrai

Hi. My name is Kerry but here online I tend to go by the Gaelic version of my name, Ciarrai. I am a woman in my mid-30's who lives on Long Island, NY, with my husband, Rob, several guitars, a Nikon D40, more yarn, beads and books than I care to admit to and a cat who has a million nicknames and quite a few theme songs. I have a B.A. in Psychology and have recently returned to college to pursue a teaching degree so that I can eventually get a job as a High School English teacher. In addition to my major obsessions (Reading, Beading, Knitting, Music and Photography), I also enjoy playing Board Games, going to Renaissance Faires, Museums and Broadway Musicals.
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