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The Trouble with Poetry


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About the Author

Billy Collins is the author of seven collections of poetry, including Nine Horses, Sailing Alone Around the Room, Questions About Angels, The Art of Drowning, and Picnic, Lightning. He is also the editor of Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry and 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day. A distinguished professor of English at Lehman College of the City University of New York, he was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. He currently serves as the Poet Laureate of New York State.


Two years after his very visible stint as U.S. poet laureate, Collins (Sailing Alone Around the Room) remains one of the nation's most popular poets. His light touch, his self-deprecating pathos and his unerring sense of his audience (nothing too difficult, but nothing too lowbrow) explain much of that popularity and remain evident in this eighth collection. "The birds are in their trees,/ the toast is in the toaster,/ and the poets are at their windows," the volume begins: the poet as sensitive everyman, moved if not baffled by literary legacies, and attracted to simple pleasures, constructs a series of similar days and scenes. "In the Moment" depicts "a day in June," "the kind that gives you no choice/ but to unbutton your shirt/ and sit outside in a rough wooden chair"; "I Ask You" opens on "an ordinary night at the kitchen table." Collins's comic gifts are also much in evidence: "Special Glasses" describes spectacles that "filter out the harmful sight of you"; "The Introduction" makes fun of footnotes and obscurities in other poets' poems. The dominant note, however, is a gentle sadness, accomplished with care and skill, sometimes (as in "The Lanyard") garnished by autobiographical wisdom. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

"The birds are in their trees,/ the toast is in the toaster,/ and the poets are at their windows." As implied by this line-and the book's very title-a major concern of Collins's new collection is the art, the craft, of poetry. As the former poet laureate enters his seventh decade ("Because tomorrow/ I will turn 420 in dog years,"), it is an appropriate time, perhaps, for him to reflect on his aesthetics, on the seemingly casual, natural, sure steps that brought about his poems: "The other day as I was ricocheting slowly/ off the pale blue walls of this room/ bouncing from typewriter to piano,/ from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor." Collins is as close as anyone in contemporary American poetry will likely get to being a household name. Blame his sweet, smart, and wise poems, which are always accessible; his colorful personality and ungoverned humor; or his remarkable energy-it is, no doubt, a combination of all these things. "The trouble with poetry," he suggests, "is that it encourages the writing of more poetry," and this collection is as rich and mischievous as anything he has given us previously. Highly recommended.-Louis McKee, Painted Bride Arts Ctr., Philadelphia Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Praise for Billy Collins

"Using simple, understandable language, Collins captures ordinary life-its pleasure, its discontents, its moments of sadness and of joy."
USA Today "At once accessible and profound, [Collins's] work makes him a natural people's poet."
-Boston Herald "A poet of plenitude, irony, and Augustan grace."
-The New Yorker "A sort of poet not seen since Robert Frost."
-The Boston Globe "Collins reveals the unexpected within the ordinary. He peels back the surface of the humdrum to make the moment new."
-The Christian Science Monitor "It is difficult not to be charmed by Collins, and that in itself is a remarkable literary accomplishment."
-The New York Review of Books

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