Sailing alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems, Billy Collins, 2001
Collins is perhaps America’s best loved contemporary poet, likely because he is saddled with the epithet “approachable” or “accessible”, but I view that as a compliment not a criticism. In this book of selected poems from his first four books of poems, stretching from 1988 to 1998 followed by around two fistfuls of new work, he made me laugh, think, shake my head with wonder at his metaphors and vision, and, unfortunately, feel the loss as his later work seemed to lack the verve and excitement of the earlier poems. Certain images recur with novel settings and feelings: snow, windows, his dog, his writing desk. Some are laugh out loud in their connections: the neighbor’s dog whose barking is transformed into a Beethoven solo for barking dog”. While in other poems, his metaphors are perfectly framed: the ‘small vase, sparkling blue, a yellow pencil, the sharpest of the bouquet’ on his writing desk; a sentence starts out like a ‘lone traveler heading into a blizzard at midnight.”; ‘I see all of us reading ourselves away from ourselves.” And then, there are the absolutely perfect poems: Forgetfulness (‘The name of the author is the first to go/followed obediently by the title, the plot,/the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel/ which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never/even heard of,/ as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor/ decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,/to a little fishing village where there are no phones.“) Consolation (“How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer….”, Directions (“You know the brick path in back of the house,/the one you see from the kitchen window/”), and Day (“Each one is a gift, no doubt,/mysteriously placed in your waking hand/or set upon your forehead/moments before you open your eyes.”) And then to top it off, there’s American Sonnet, a poem about postcards! A wonderful book to return to for laughs, thought-provoking moments, and just the crystalline pleasure of reading a poet at his best.