Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems

ISBN: 0375755195
ISBN 13: 9780375755194
By: Billy Collins

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Reader's Thoughts


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. 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”

Hansen Wendlandt

This collection is a great way to introduce someone to the greatest living poet. Metaphysical issues of meaning stand alongside the most mundane topics of sex, trains and blues music. The art of poetry lies on the same page as a simplicity of writing, story and imagery. Tennyson can write deeply and technical; Andrea Gibson's poetry can reach anyone viscerally. How does Collins do both simultaneously? Winter Syntax, an absurdly beautiful poem, tells the truth about language, that "there are easier ways of making sense, the connoisseurship of gesture, for example." (7) The Death of Allegory goes beyond the words to describe the power of concepts, relegating Truth and Chastity and Reason and the like to "a Florida for tropes." (27) Workshop, one of the more clever pieces of writing anyone will ever stumble upon, takes on the very structure of language and meaning. Marginalia is more about the process of reading than the process of creation, bringing a smile of familiarity to any careful reader.

Simone Subliminalpop

Se volete leggere qualcosa di suo, meglio prima indirizzarsi sul più recente "Balistica".Non che sia una brutta raccolta, anzi, le caratteristiche migliori della poesia di Collins ci sono tutte, ma rispetto all'altra, sopra menzionata, questa mi è sembrata più diluita e un po' ridondante.“Altra cosa vuol fare con la propria poesia Collins, che considera lo humor ‘una porta verso ciò che è serio’. Al virtuosismo contrappone la spezzatura e una limpida naturalezza, che non è rinuncia alla musicalità ma, semmai, il tentativo di cogliere, proprio con quella naturalezza e spezzatura del verso libero che caratterizzano il suo fare, un flusso da un’immagine a un concetto, da uno stato a una cosa, a un’idea; un movimento immaginativo che, quando riuscito, si dà come narrazione ritmica.” – dalla postfazione di Franco Nasi“Se una poesia non ha un punto di partenza chiaro, come fa ad andare da qualche parte? Se una poesia non comincia nella chiarezza, come può procedere dentro il misterioso? […] Se un lettore non è orientato all’inizio, come può essere piacevolmente disorientato alla fine? O, per usare i termini di Viktor Šklovskij, come può il lettore esperire la defamiliarizzazione o straniamento, se non viene prima offerto il familiare come cancello di partenza?” – Billy Collins


Billy Collins is the perfect poet for people who don't really care for poetry. He writes little stories in free verse that are accessible and often very funny. This is a collection of, as the title says, new and old poems. Some of my favorites are: Marginalia where the poet ponders the kinship he feels with people who write in the margin of books; Another Reason Why I Don't Keep a Gun in the House where the poet struggles with his ire at the neighbor's barking dog, and Passengers, his observation that the other passengers in the waiting area of the airport gate may very well be the "possible company of my death" if their plane crashes. His Introduction to Poetry mirrors my own exasperation with students who demand to be told "what the poem is about." This, and The Complete Robert Frost, are two poetry books that I pick up constantly to reread.


I really like the poetry of Billy Collins. It’s whimsical, fun, and accessible. Collins writes to make us laugh, to make us reflect, and to help us simply enjoy being human beings. Many of these poems left me with a smile on my face. The poems are imaginative, occasionally sad, and often hilarious. There’s even a poem that’s intentionally lousy—his “Paradelle for Susan.” Although three or four of the poems are too crass for me, I really enjoyed this book overall. Here were a few of my favorites:• “Workshop”:• “Introduction to Poetry”:• “First Reader”:• “Winter Syntax”:• “Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Sung Dynasty, I Pause To Admire the Length and Clarity of Their Titles”:• “The Rival Poet”:• "The History Teacher":

Stacy Bender

the lanyard The other day as I was ricocheting slowly off the blue walls of this room bouncing from typewriter to piano from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor, I found myself in the "L" section of the dictionary where my eyes fell upon the word, Lanyard. No cookie nibbled by a French novelist could send one more suddenly into the past. A past where I sat at a workbench at a camp by a deep Adirondack lake learning how to braid thin plastic strips into a lanyard. A gift for my mother. I had never seen anyone use a lanyard. Or wear one, if that’s what you did with them. But that did not keep me from crossing strand over strand again and again until I had made a boxy, red and white lanyard for my mother. She gave me life and milk from her breasts, and I gave her a lanyard. She nursed me in many a sick room, lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips, set cold facecloths on my forehead then led me out into the airy light and taught me to walk and swim and I in turn presented her with a lanyard. "Here are thousands of meals" she said, "and here is clothing and a good education." "And here is your lanyard," I replied, "which I made with a little help from a counselor." "Here is a breathing body and a beating heart, strong legs, bones and teeth and two clear eyes to read the world." she whispered. "And here," I said, "is the lanyard I made at camp." "And here," I wish to say to her now, "is a smaller gift. Not the archaic truth, that you can never repay your mother, but the rueful admission that when she took the two-toned lanyard from my hands, I was as sure as a boy could be that this useless worthless thing I wove out of boredom would be enough to make us even." (billy collins)

Peycho Kanev

Пеша с Били КолинсПървата книга на Били Колинс, която прочетох в оригинал, се казва „Изкуството на давене” (1995). Не бях чувал името му преди това. Помня как затворих последната страница и след десет минути отново отворих на първата - и започнах пак. Въпросът, който изплува в съзнанието ми, беше: „На кого, на кого ми напомня?”. Тогава не успях да си отговоря. Няколко години по-късно получих отговор от самия автор. Каза ми: „Сигурно ти напомня на Били Колинс...”През 2001 г. Били Колинс е избран от Библиотеката на Конгреса за поет лауреат на САЩ и по този начин името му се нарежда до цяла плеяда от изключителни поети, като Йосиф Бродски, Робърт Пински, Робърт Пен Уорън, Чарлс Симич и др. Но той отдавна е сред тях. В свое интервю, което дава за The Paris Review, споделя, че никога не би написал роман. Защо ли? Ето защо: Една от разликите между романиста и поета е тази, че писателят сякаш се настанява в дома ти. Искам да кажа, че за да прочетеш един роман, са ти нужни от три дни до три седмици. Представям си писателя като мой гост. Поетът е някой, който просто се появява. Вратата се отваря и ето го – поетът! Казва нещо за живота или смъртта, затваря вратата и го няма. Кой беше този маскиран мъж? Харесва ми това внезапно появяване. С други думи, не протакаш гостуването си.За мен Колинс си остава един от най-пестеливите поети, които съм чел. И в същото време, ако можем да сравним всеки голям поет с някакъв музикален инструмент - било то виола, контрабас или флейта, мисля, че най-удачното сравнение за Колинс би било симфоничният оркестър. Защото той в един момент може да звучи небесно нежно като виола д’аморе, а в следващия да избухне като Берлинската филхармония. За поети като него трудно може да се говори тихо, с половин уста. Или го четеш и се възхищаваш на всяка дума в поетичната му вселена, или не четеш поезия изобщо.И сега следва най-важното. Приканвам ви да разтворите новата стихосбирка на Били Колинс, която излезе на български от издателство „Стигмати”. Пеша през Атлантическия океан за мен е книга събитие. Тънката книжка, ако разсъждаваме с терминологията на мощта и внушението, всъщност е по-дебела и от „Антология на немската поезия.” А преводът на голямата преводачка Огняна Иванова сам по себе си е отделен поетичен шедьовър. Големият Робърт Фрост казва, че поезията е всичко онова, което се губи при превода. В този случай имаме прекрасни поетични загуби и в същото време големи преводачески постъпления, излезли изпод перото на Огняна Иванова. Много добре съм запознат със стихотворенията от тази книга в оригинал, но докато ги чета на български, усещам, че звучат още по-силно, по-звънко и мащабно. Звучат на място. На правилното си място. Това представляват големите поети. На всеки език, стъпили на твърдия фундамент на голямото изкуство, могат да преминат „Пеша през Атлантическия океан”.... А следващия път, когато в Ню Йорк отново се срещна с Били Колинс, ще си разменим нови стихове, ще четем и аз пак ще му разкажа за българската поезия. Защото ние все пак сме едно цяло. И винаги ще бъдем. А ако приемем съвременната поезия и поезията въобще като едно безкрайно състезание с времето, тогава Били Колинс винаги е имал и ще има запазено място на почетната стълбичка. „Пеша през Атлантическия океан” е поредното доказателство.Пейчо Кънев


I don't like poetry. I mean, I like this poem, and that poem. The Lady of Shalott, The Raven, you know, sort of the "usual suspects" of poetry. But I never actively seek out poetry. I don't like to curl up with a good book of poems on a rainy day. I don't "get" a lot of it, and I'm irritated by many of the modern poets. But my sister, who is an English teacher, introduced me to Billy Collins' poetry a few years ago, and I was hooked. Funny, deceptively simple, and yet tender and insightful at the same time. The Lanyard isn't in this collection, but you can find it online and should do so at once. Why I Do Not Keep A Gun in the House is in this collection. As is Sonnet. He writes a great many poems about being a poet, which far from being pretentious, are in fact funny and endearing. He plays with words in fun ways that don't say, "Look at me! I'm so clever!" but rather, "Look at this! And this! Isn't the language marvelous?!" This is a slim and wonderful little book of poems, whether you've read Collins before or not, you should own this.


My philosophically minded friends and I have a debate about Billy Collins' poetry. They insist that the attempt to chronicle the everyday in a meaningful way can be done in a deeper, more profound manner. They find Collins lacking in this way. This is probably true, but not Collins' main point, I think.Still, I think, after rereading this book, that Collins becomes more profound with time. I am still unsure if this is my projection into the poem because I *want* these poems to be more profound or not. Nonetheless, I can't help liking so much of what he writes here, even if it can be rightly said, as my aforementioned friends insist, that some of these poems are thin on theme.Anyway, here's a lovely image that closes the poem 'Bar Time':No wonder such thoughtless pleasure derivesfrom tending the small fire of a cigarette, from observing this glass of whiskey and ice,the cold rust I am sipping,or from having an eye on the street outsidewhen Ordinary Time slouches past in a topcoat,rain runing off the brim of his hat,the late edition like a flag in his pocket.


I gave this book three separate sittings and though I did enjoy reading it, I could not shake the feeling that Collins is a bit too straightforward. I understand his widespread appeal - he makes poetry manageable, accessible, easy - but I think he does so at some expense. Critics quoted in the front of the book described his "irresistable charm" - but I think that a great deal of that charm is not so much the sublimeness of his poems, but the fact that nearly every person on earth - secretly, deep down - wants to be a poet and the ease and simplicity of Collins' poems make them think that maybe their own writings are worth a little more than they ever supposed. It is no doubt a good thing that he has - I'm sure - inspired many tobegin reading poetry or to even begin taking more seriously their own writing.I also felt, though, that his own voice - his ego - was ever-present and much too loud. He strikes me as the type that is quite enamored with himself and I think that that is part of why his storylines felt so overt to me.All in all - it is merely a matter of personal preference. I can appreciate his meter and the unquestionable strength of his creativity. He can take the mundane and banal and send them off into some other realm that is full of imagination and fantasy. And he makes the trip fun. But it felt a little like the science fiction form of poetry - and science fiction is something for which I've never been able to acquire a taste.


I don’t think Billy gives a rat’s ass that I’m a philistine; that I’m unschooled in the appreciation of fine arts; that I can’t even fake knowing jack about poetry. He writes for guys like me, too. In fact, it might be kind of his thing. (My friend Scott, who does know poetry, commented just today that Collins has a reputation for being less serious. Evidently, the hegemons of verse took exception when he was named Poet Laureate and called for their own choice.) But he won me over on the very first page: Another Reason Why I Don't Keep a Gun in the HouseThe neighbors' dog will not stop barking.He is barking the same high, rhythmic barkthat he barks every time they leave the house.They must switch him on on their way out.The neighbors' dog sill not stop barking.I close all the windows in the houseand put on a Beethoven symphony full blastbut I can still hear him muffled under the music,barking, barking, barking,and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,his head raised confidently as if Beethovenhad included a part for barking dog.When the record finally ends he is still barking,sitting there in the oboe section barking,his eyes fixed on the conductor who isentreating him with his batonwhile the other musicians listen in respectfulsilence to the famous barking dog solo,that endless coda that first establishedBeethoven as an innovative genius.Like I said before, I’m a poetry nitwit. It was only recently that I learned they don’t have to rhyme. The rule is, as long as it has blocks of broken up lines it qualifies, right? So yeah, I may be a dummy, but at least I’m open to Billy’s way of approaching them:Introduction to PoetryI ask them to take a poemand hold it up to the lightlike a color slideor press an ear against its hive.I say drop a mouse into a poemand watch him probe his way out,or walk inside the poem's roomand feel the walls for a light switch.I want them to water-skiacross the surface of a poemwaving at the author's name on the shore.But all they want to dois tie the poem to a chair with ropeand torture a confession out of it.They begin beating it with a hoseto find out what it really means.Muchas gracias to Penky and Stephen M for their great reviews of this one. They, along with Scott, fracked the rocky ground from which poetry flows like gas into a wellbore. That’s almost poetic, isn’t it? Especially when I break it up, right?A bit of humor, a slightly skewed eye, an attitude of approachability, and an artistry with words that’s hard to describe (but easy to like) – it all adds up to a lot of stars.


America's poet laureate -- here's an example -- I haven't read everything he's written, but I've loved everything I've read! Taking Off Emily Dickinson's ClothesFirst, her tippet made of tulle,easily lifted off her shoulders and laidon the back of a wooden chair.And her bonnet,the bow undone with a light forward pull.Then the long white dress, a morecomplicated matter with mother-of-pearlbuttons down the back,so tiny and numerous that it takes foreverbefore my hands can part the fabric,like a swimmer's dividing water,and slip inside.You will want to knowthat she was standingby an open window in an upstairs bedroom,motionless, a little wide-eyed,looking out at the orchard below,the white dress puddled at her feeton the wide-board, hardwood floor.The complexity of women's undergarmentsin nineteenth-century Americais not to be waved off,and I proceeded like a polar explorerthrough clips, clasps, and moorings,catches, straps, and whalebone stays,sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.Later, I wrote in a notebookit was like riding a swan into the night,but, of course, I cannot tell you everything -the way she closed her eyes to the orchard,how her hair tumbled free of its pins,how there were sudden dasheswhenever we spoke.What I can tell you isit was terribly quiet in Amherstthat Sabbath afternoon,nothing but a carriage passing the house,a fly buzzing in a windowpane.So I could plainly hear her inhalewhen I undid the very tophook-and-eye fastener of her corsetand I could hear her sigh when finally it was unloosed,the way some readers sigh when they realizethat Hope has feathers,that reason is a plank,that life is a loaded gunthat looks right at you with a yellow eye.


Unit 5 Discussion PostSailing Alone Around the Room, by America’s Poet Laureate Billy Collins is not a typical book of poetry, where readers must hunker down and seriously focus with a dictionary strapped to their side. Collins’ engrossing book can be devoured in an evening, and can even be thought of as a nice beach book because it is pleasurable and entertaining (but not meant to discount it’s ingenuity). His delivery is breezy and conversational so that before you know it, you have finished the book before you actually wanted it to end. The book’s fast and easy free verse makes you feel like you are having a one-on-one conversation with the author in an intimate setting. Collins notices the daily occurrences of life people often ignore and writes about them in vivid detail. Collins is humdrum, funny, perceptive, and somber in this collection of poems. To examine how he can change tones within one poem, let’s examine: “Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep A Gun in the House.” The poem starts out somewhat monotonous; he incorporates ordinary language and repetition: “but I can still hear him muffled under the music/barking, barking, barking.” Then suddenly, his poems hits you midstream with humor: “as if Beethoven had included a part for barking dogs” and “barking dog solo.” And finally, Collins universalizes the poem, to make a poignant observation about a famous musician, “Beethoven as an innovative genius.” This is his signature structural method for pulling us through the poem and creating a short, condensed story that evoke an array of emotions.Furthermore, Collins has a way of touching on universal themes (time’s passage, tragedy, simple joys, God, sadness, death, afterlife, grief, etc.) through commonplace situations and scenes (the beach, kitchen, library, bar, school, writer’s desk, backyard, etc.). I’ve pulled out my favorite poetic lines in the book, that I also deem thematic and universal: “There is nothing like practice to devour the hours of life” (themes: practicing art, time’s passage) - Serenade“Nothing will be as it was a few hours ago, back in the glorious past.” (themes: regret, time’s passage) – Lines Composed Over Three Thousand Miles from Tintern AbbeyCollins also describes the art of writing in new and creative metaphors, which I appreciate and adore as a writer:“Words are food thrown down on the ground for other words to eat” (themes: words are cannibalistic, greedy, always wanting more) - Workshop“The unclothed body is autobiography./Every lake is a vowel, every island a noun” (theme: words are connected and fit together; words are natural and mimic real life) – Winter SyntaxFinally, Collins uses simple language to convey complex ideas, and that’s why his poetry feels so accessible and relatable. He has tapped into a reader’s need for clarity while also stimulating curiosity. To put it plainly as Collins often does, he’s a genius.

Judith Starkston

I was given a copy of these poems by Billy Collins recently, and they are a delightful companion. As such they cannot rightly ever be stowed in the already read file because I will return as often as my soul needs to. I highly recommend a copy by everyone's bedside. How can you not love a book of poems in which one can find these two stanzas in a poem called Forgetfulness?The name of the author is the first to gofollowed obediently by the title, the plot,the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novelwhich suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbordecided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Taryn Chase

Quickly becoming one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins has a way of stating ordinary things in an extraordinary way: he has a poem about stepping into a painting at a museum, one about a town filled with all the students he's ever taught, one trying to make sense of the lyrics of three blind mice, one about stuff people write in the margins of books... and he has some wonderful titles, too, including "another reason why I don't keep a gun in the house," taking off emily dickinson's clothes," "man listening to disc," and "shoveling snow with buddha." I can't encourage people enough to pick up a volume of this one-time US poet laureate and dive in.

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