Poetry rarely, if ever, makes it to the top of the bestseller heap. People
always joke about poets having to work to support themselves and their art—and
for good reason (the U.S. Poet Laureate only makes $30,000 per year). And so,
naturally, this poetry book, which has actually made it to general book bestseller
lists, caught my eye. I was determined to pick up this marvel.
Sailing Alone Around the Room served as my introduction to Billy Collins.
And it was a good one. I could see why this U.S. Poet Laureate’s salary
was actually being appropriately supplemented by royalties. This book is a best-of
and some-new-too collection for Collins. Considering it appeared about the time
he was appointed as the laureate, I suspect this book is meant to quic
those of us behind-the-times dolts up-to-speed on Billy Collins.
Many people have commented on the accessibility of Collins’ poetry—and
doubtless that’s the characteristic that’s brought the book to best-selling
status. But the thing that gets me about these poems is their memorability.
With most books of poetry, you have to make a large concentrated effort to sit
down and take in a few poems, and even then, it may take a few readings to recognize
any of them when you pick up the book again, much less be able to spot the page
you were on. With this book, however, after I put down the book and picked it
back up each time, I knew exactly where I was without a bookmark.
I felt like I owned each poem after reading it once. Now, this isn’t an
entirely good thing—I found, actually that I didn’t want to read these
poems a second time right away, which is usually something I enjoy. I enjoy
having a work a bit to unlock the meaning and the beauty from a poem. Nonetheless,
I was amazed and intrigued by this phenomenon—and somewhat jealous. It’s
not easy to make poetry read as quickly and enjoyably as a mystery novel. And,
as in the case of the mystery novel, the fact that I wanted to forget the resolutions
a bit before a re-read didn’t mean that the book itself wasn’t worthwhile.
It just meant that this is a different kind of poetry. A kind of poetry that
takes the reader into subjects that would often seem off-limits to poetry, like
humor. The author is kind enough to share his thought process to the reader
along with his conclusions, and makes it all seem deceptively simple and effortless.
Effortless enough to draw his readers in, and to make Sailing Alone Around
the Room extremely popular.
Although I wouldn’t want to live on a poetry diet of Billy Collins alone,
I have to admit that I’ve become a fan. I can’t remember the last
time I had such a hard time putting down a book of poetry.