Cover image for Sailing alone around the room : new and selected poems
Sailing alone around the room : new and selected poems
Collins, Billy.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [2001]

Physical Description:
171 pages ; 22 cm
[section 1]. From The apple that astonished Paris (1988) -- Another reason why I don't keep a gun in the house -- Walking across the Atlantic -- Plight of the troubadour -- The lesson -- Winter syntax -- Advice to writers -- The rival poet -- Insomnia -- Earthling -- Books -- Bar time -- My number -- Introduction to poetry -- The Brooklyn Museum of Art -- Schoolsville -- [section 2]. From Questions about angels (191) -- American sonnet -- Questions about angels -- A history of weather -- The death of allegory -- Forgetfulness -- Candle hat -- Student of clouds -- The dead -- The man in the moon -- The wires of the night -- Vade mecum -- Not touching -- The history teacher -- First reader - Purity -- Nostalgia -- [section 3]. From The art of drowning (1995) -- Consolation -- Osso Buco -- Directions -- Sunday morning with the sensational nightingales -- The best cigarette -- Days -- Tuesday, June 4, 1991 -- Canada -- On turning ten -- Workshop -- My heart -- Budapest -- Dancing toward Bethlehem -- Monday morning -- Center -- Design -- Pinup -- Piano lessons -- The blues -- Man in space -- Nightclub -- Some final words -- [section 4]. From Picnic, lightning (1998) -- Fishing on the Susquehanna in July -- To a stranger born in some distant country hundreds of years from now -- I chop some parsley while listening to Art Blakey's version of "Three blind mice" -- Afternoon with Irish cows -- Marginalia -- Some days -- Picnic, lightning -- Morning -- Bonsai -- Shoveling snow with Buddha -- Snow -- Japan -- Victoria's secret -- Lines composed over three thousand miles from Tintern Abbey -- Paradelle for Susan -- Lines lost among trees -- Taking off Emily Dickinson's clothes -- The night house -- Splitting wood -- The death of the hat -- Passengers -- Where I live -- Aristotle -- [section 5]. New poems -- Dharma -- Reading an anthology of Chinese poems of the Sung Dynasty, I pause to admire the length and clarity of their titles -- Snow day -- Insomnia -- Madmen -- Sonnet -- Idiomatic -- The waitress -- The butterfly effect -- Serenade -- The three wishes -- Pavilion -- The movies -- Jealousy -- tomes -- Man listening to disc -- Scotland -- November -- The iron bridge -- The flight of the reader.

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PS3553.O47478 S25 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3553.O47478 S25 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3553.O47478 S25 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PS3553.O47478 S25 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PS3553.O47478 S25 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PS3553.O47478 S25 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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"High, most encouraging tidings"--that is how Billy Collins, the widely read and widely acclaimed poet, describes the music in his poem about the gospel singing group The Sensational Nightingales. The same phrase applies, just as joyfully, to the arrival of Sailing Alone Around the Room , a landmark collection of new and selected poems by this Guggenheim Fellow, NPR contributor, New York Public Library "Literary Lion," and incomparably popular performer of his own good works.

From four earlier collections, which have secured for him a national reputation, Collins offers the lyric equivalent of an album of Greatest Hits. In "Forgetful-ness," memories of the contents of a novel "retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain, to a little fishing village where there are no phones." In "Osso Buco," a poem about gustatory pleasure, the "lion of content-ment" places a warm heavy paw on the poet's chest. In "Marginalia," he catalogs the scrawled comments of books' previous readers: " 'Absolutely,' they shout to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin. 'Yes.' 'Bull's-eye.' 'My man!' " And he also serves us a generous portion of new poems, including "Man Listening to Disc," a jazz trip with headphones, and "The Iron Bridge," a wildly speculative, moving elegy.

Whether old or new, these poems will catch their readers by exhilarating surprise. They may begin with irony and end in lyric transcendence. They may open with humor and close with grief. They may, and often do, begin with the everyday and end with infinity. Wise, funny, sad, stealthy, and always perfectly clear, these poems will not be departing for that little fishing village with no phones for a long, long time. Billy Collins, possessed of a unique lyric voice, is one of American poetry's most sensational nightingales.

Author Notes

Billy Collins has published six collections of poetry, including Questions About Angels and The Art of Drowning, Picnic, Lightning, his latest, sold more than 25,000 copies in its first year. He teaches at Lehman College of the City University of New York and at Sarah Lawrence College. He was named U.S. Poet Laureate in June 2000.

(Bowker Author Biography) Billy Collins was born in New York City in 1941. He earned a BA from the College of the Holy Cross, and both an MA and PhD from the University of California-Riverside.

Collins conducted summer poetry workshops at University College Galway and is the Poet in Residence at Burren College of Art in Ireland. He is also a professor of English at Lehman College (CUNY). In 1992, Collins was chosen to be the Literary Lion of the New York Public Library. He was named U.S. Poet Laureate in 2001 and held the title until 2003. Collins then served as Poet Laureate for the State of New York from 2004 until 2006.

His poetry has appeared in anthologies, textbooks and periodicals including Poetry, The American Poetry Review, The American scholar, Harper's, The Paris Review and The New Yorker. He is the author of six books of poetry including "The Art of Drowning." His poems have also been selected to appear in The Best American Poetry of 1992, 1993 and 1997. His works have won various awards including the Bess Hokin Prize, the Frederick Bock Prize, the Oscar Blumenthal Prize and the Levinson Prize, all awarded by Poetry. He has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.

His collection of poems entitled Aimless Love made numerous best-seller lists in 2013. (Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Collins, that rarest of creatures, a truly popular living poet, is currently poet laureate, an appointment well celebrated with this fertile gathering of nearly 100 poems--20 newly minted, the others selected from four earlier volumes, including Picnic, Lightning (1998). On every delectable page, Collins performs nimble feats of the imagination and gives voice to an emotion we foolishly trivialize and condemn: pure pleasure. Nurturing a childlike love and talent for make-believe, he enters the landscape of a Hudson River painting; offers funny takes on history; writes lovingly of dogs, music, cups of tea, and books; and sees everything as a living entity, from a piano to a calendar pinup to the dawn. But what appears to be whimsy is, in fact, a graceful and ongoing inquiry into the nature of being. Mischievous and deeply attentive, inventive and grateful, Collins moves stealthily toward the essentials, quietly celebrating the simple and reflective life and gently reminding readers to respect and treasure our species' tenuous place on the great thrumming web of life. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

This collection hit the front page of the New York Times its first time out of the blocks in 1999, as the University of Pittsburgh Press, Collins's longtime publisher, denied Random the rights to the poems as the poet tried to jump ship. The two houses and Collins's agent, Chris Calhoun (Dan Menaker is Collins's editor at Random), later worked out a deal that gave Pitt a few more months to ride Picnic, Lightning (1998) and Collins's other books without this culling treading on its sales. As it now appears, the book includes 23 poems from Picnic, more than from any of Collins's previous three books included here. (Work from the early Video Poems and Pokerface is absent.) Collins's poems are generally conveyed by a speaker whose genial, highly literate analogue of earnestness perfectly produces inchoate quotidian restlessness matched by fear-based appreciation of the mundane. A typical Collins poem begins with "How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer," "The way the dog trots out the front door" or the observation that "It is possible to be struck by a meteor/ or a single-engine plane/ while reading in a chair at home" and continues by juxtaposing, say, close descriptions of "the instant hand of Death" and "the rasp of the steel edge/ against a round stone,/ the small plants singing/ with lifted faces." It's a formula that has worked well for Collins, and he does not abandon it in the 20 new poems here. (On-sale date: Sept. 11) Forecast: A reading on NPR's A Prairie Home Companion was the beginning of serious sales for Picnic, Lightning (40,000 copies and counting), while The Art of Drowning has sold 26,000 since 1995, and Questions About Angels clocks in at 21,000 since 1991. Collins's reading tours for this book should help reach even more readers, and some browsers may remember the Times story. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This new volume from the newly appointed poet laureate of the United States has survived the publishing rights war between Random House and the University of Pittsburgh Press. The wait has been well worth it. The surface structure of these poems appears simplistic, but subtle changes in tone or gesture move the reader from the mundane to the sublime. In an attempt to sleep, the speaker in "Insomnia" moves from counting sheep to envisioning Noah's arc to picturing "all the fish in creation/ leaping a fence in a field of water,/ one colorful species after another." Collins will tackle any topic: his subject matter varies from snow days to Aristotle to forgetfulness. The results are accessible but not trite, comical but not laughable, and well crafted but not overly flamboyant. Collins relies heavily on imagery, which becomes the cornerstone of the entire volume, and his range of diction brings such a polish to these poems that the reader is left feeling that this book "once opened, can never be closed." This volume belongs in everyone's library; highly recommended. Tim Gavin, Episcopa Acad., Merion, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



from The Apple That Astonished Paris (1988) Another Reason Why I Don't Keep a Gun in the House The neighbors' dog will not stop barking. He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark that he barks every time they leave the house. They must switch him on on their way out. The neighbors' dog will not stop barking. I close all the windows in the house and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast but 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 Beethoven had 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 is entreating him with his baton while the other musicians listen in respectful silence to the famous barking dog solo, that endless coda that first established Beethoven as an innovative genius. Walking Across the Atlantic I wait for the holiday crowd to clear the beach before stepping onto the first wave. Soon I am walking across the Atlantic thinking about Spain, checking for whales, waterspouts. I feel the water holding up my shifting weight. Tonight I will sleep on its rocking surface. But for now I try to imagine what this must look like to the fish below, the bottoms of my feet appearing, disappearing. Plight of the Troubadour For a good hour I have been singing lays in langue d'oc to a woman who knows only langue d'oïl, an odd Picard dialect at that. The European love lyric is flourishing with every tremor of my voice, yet a friend has had to tap my shoulder to tell me she has not caught a word. My sentiments are tangled like kites in the branches of her incomprehension, and soon I will be lost in an anthology and poets will no longer wear hats like mine. Provence will be nothing more than a pink hue on a map or an answer on a test. And still the woman smiles over at me feigning this look of sisterly understanding. The Lesson In the morning when I found History snoring heavily on the couch, I took down his overcoat from the rack and placed its weight over my shoulder blades. It would protect me on the cold walk into the village for milk and the paper and I figured he would not mind, not after our long conversation the night before. How unexpected his blustering anger when I returned covered with icicles, the way he rummaged through the huge pockets making sure no major battle or English queen had fallen out and become lost in the deep snow. Winter Syntax A sentence starts out like a lone traveler heading into a blizzard at midnight, tilting into the wind, one arm shielding his face, the tails of his thin coat flapping behind him. There are easier ways of making sense, the connoisseurship of gesture, for example. You hold a girl's face in your hands like a vase. You lift a gun from the glove compartment and toss it out the window into the desert heat. These cool moments are blazing with silence. The full moon makes sense. When a cloud crosses it it becomes as eloquent as a bicycle leaning outside a drugstore or a dog who sleeps all afternoon in a corner of the couch. Bare branches in winter are a form of writing. The unclothed body is autobiography. Every lake is a vowel, every island a noun. But the traveler persists in his misery, struggling all night through the deepening snow, leaving a faint alphabet of bootprints on the white hills and the white floors of valleys, a message for field mice and passing crows. At dawn he will spot the vine of smoke rising from your chimney, and when he stands before you shivering, draped in sparkling frost, a smile will appear in the beard of icicles, and the man will express a complete thought. Advice to Writers Even if it keeps you up all night, wash down the walls and scrub the floor of your study before composing a syllable. Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way. Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration. The more you clean, the more brilliant your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take to the open fields to scour the undersides of rocks or swab in the dark forest upper branches, nests full of eggs. When you find your way back home and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink, you will behold in the light of dawn the immaculate altar of your desk, a clean surface in the middle of a clean world. From a small vase, sparkling blue, lift a yellow pencil, the sharpest of the bouquet, and cover pages with tiny sentences like long rows of devoted ants that followed you in from the woods. The Rival Poet The column of your book titles, always introducing your latest one, looms over me like Roman architecture. It is longer than the name of an Italian countess, longer than this poem will probably be. Etched on the head of a pin, my own production would leave room for The Lord's Prayer and many dancing angels. No matter. In my revenge daydream I am the one poised on the marble staircase high above the crowded ballroom. A retainer in livery announces me and the Contessa Maria Teresa Isabella Veronica Multalire Eleganza de Bella Ferrari. You are the one below fidgeting in your rented tux with some local Cindy hanging all over you. Insomnia After counting all the sheep in the world I enumerate the wildebeests, snails, camels, skylarks, etc., then I add up all the zoos and aquariums, country by country. By early light I am asleep in a nightmare about drowning in the Flood, yelling across the rising water at preoccupied Noah as his wondrous ark sails by and begins to grow smaller. Now a silhouette on the horizon, the only boat on earth is disappearing. As I rise and fall on the rocking waves, I concentrate on the giraffe couple, their necks craning over the roof, to keep my life from flashing before me. After all the animals wink out of sight I float on my back, eyes closed. I picture all the fish in creation leaping a fence in a field of water, one colorful species after another. Earthling You have probably come across those scales in planetariums that tell you how much you would weigh on other planets. You have noticed the fat ones lingering on the Mars scale and the emaciated slowing up the line for Neptune. As a creature of average weight, I fail to see the attraction. Imagine squatting in the wasteland of Pluto, all five tons of you, or wandering around Mercury wondering what to do next with your ounce. How much better to step onto the simple bathroom scale, a happy earthling feeling the familiar ropes of gravity, 157 pounds standing soaking wet a respectful distance from the sun. Books From the heart of this dark, evacuated campus I can hear the library humming in the night, a choir of authors murmuring inside their books along the unlit, alphabetical shelves, Giovanni Pontano next to Pope, Dumas next to his son, each one stitched into his own private coat, together forming a low, gigantic chord of language. I picture a figure in the act of reading, shoes on a desk, head tilted into the wind of a book, a man in two worlds, holding the rope of his tie as the suicide of lovers saturates a page, or lighting a cigarette in the middle of a theorem. He moves from paragraph to paragraph as if touring a house of endless, paneled rooms. I hear the voice of my mother reading to me from a chair facing the bed, books about horses and dogs, and inside her voice lie other distant sounds, the horrors of a stable ablaze in the night, a bark that is moving toward the brink of speech. I watch myself building bookshelves in college, walls within walls, as rain soaks New England, or standing in a bookstore in a trench coat. I see all of us reading ourselves away from ourselves, straining in circles of light to find more light until the line of words becomes a trail of crumbs that we follow across a page of fresh snow; when evening is shadowing the forest and small birds flutter down to consume the crumbs, we have to listen hard to hear the voices of the boy and his sister receding into the woods. Bar Time In keeping with universal saloon practice, the clock here is set fifteen minutes ahead of all the clocks in the outside world. This makes us a rather advanced group, doing our drinking in the unknown future, immune from the cares of the present, safely harbored a quarter of an hour beyond the woes of the contemporary scene. No wonder such thoughtless pleasure derives from 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 outside when Ordinary Time slouches past in a topcoat, rain running off the brim of his hat, the late edition like a flag in his pocket. My Number Is Death miles away from this house, reaching for a widow in Cincinnati or breathing down the neck of a lost hiker in British Columbia? Is he too busy making arrangements, tampering with air brakes, scattering cancer cells like seeds, loosening the wooden beams of roller coasters to bother with my hidden cottage that visitors find so hard to find? Or is he stepping from a black car parked at the dark end of the lane, shaking open the familiar cloak, its hood raised like the head of a crow, and removing the scythe from the trunk? Did you have any trouble with the directions? I will ask, as I start talking my way out of this. Introduction to Poetry I ask them to take a poem and hold it up to the light like a color slide or press an ear against its hive. I say drop a mouse into a poem and watch him probe his way out, or walk inside the poem's room and feel the walls for a light switch. I want them to water-ski across the surface of a poem waving at the author's name on the shore. But all they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it. They begin beating it with a hose to find out what it really means. The Brooklyn Museum of Art I will now step over the soft velvet rope and walk directly into this massive Hudson River painting and pick my way along the Palisades with this stick I snapped off a dead tree. I will skirt the smoky, nestled towns and seek the path that leads always outward until I become lost, without a hope of ever finding the way back to the museum. I will stand on the bluffs in nineteenth-century clothes, a dwarf among rock, hills, and flowing water, and I will fish from the banks in a straw hat which will feel like a brush stroke on my head. And I will hide in the green covers of forests so no appreciator of Frederick Edwin Church, leaning over the soft velvet rope, will spot my tiny figure moving in the stillness and cry out, pointing for the others to see, and be thought mad and led away to a cell where there is no vaulting landscape to explore, none of this birdsong that halts me in my tracks, and no wide curving of this river that draws my steps toward the misty vanishing point. Schoolsville Glancing over my shoulder at the past, I realize the number of students I have taught is enough to populate a small town. I can see it nestled in a paper landscape, chalk dust flurrying down in winter, nights dark as a blackboard. The population ages but never graduates. On hot afternoons they sweat the final in the park and when it's cold they shiver around stoves reading disorganized essays out loud. A bell rings on the hour and everybody zigzags into the streets with their books. I forgot all their last names first and their first names last in alphabetical order. But the boy who always had his hand up is an alderman and owns the haberdashery. The girl who signed her papers in lipstick leans against the drugstore, smoking, brushing her hair like a machine. Their grades are sewn into their clothes like references to Hawthorne. The A's stroll along with other A's. The D's honk whenever they pass another D. All the creative-writing students recline on the courthouse lawn and play the lute. Wherever they go, they form a big circle. Needless to say, I am the mayor. I live in the white colonial at Maple and Main. I rarely leave the house. The car deflates in the driveway. Vines twirl around the porch swing. Once in a while a student knocks on the door with a term paper fifteen years late or a question about Yeats or double-spacing. And sometimes one will appear in a windowpane to watch me lecturing the wallpaper, quizzing the chandelier, reprimanding the air. Excerpted from Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

From The Apple That Astonished Paris (1988)
Another Reason Why I Don't Keep a Gun in the Housep. 3
Walking Across the Atlanticp. 4
Plight of the Troubadourp. 5
The Lessonp. 6
Winter Syntaxp. 7
Advice to Writersp. 8
The Rival Poetp. 9
Insomniap. 10
Earthlingp. 11
Booksp. 12
Bar Timep. 14
My Numberp. 15
Introduction to Poetryp. 16
The Brooklyn Museum of Artp. 17
Schoolsvillep. 18
From Questions About Angels (1991)
American Sonnetp. 23
Questions About Angelsp. 24
A History of Weatherp. 26
The Death of Allegoryp. 27
Forgetfulnessp. 29
Candle Hatp. 30
Student of Cloudsp. 32
The Deadp. 33
The Man in the Moonp. 34
The Wires of the Nightp. 35
Vade Mecump. 36
Not Touchingp. 37
The History Teacherp. 38
First Readerp. 39
Purityp. 40
Nostalgiap. 42
From The Art of Drowning (1995)
Consolationp. 47
Osso Bucop. 49
Directionsp. 51
Sunday Morning with the Sensational Nightingalesp. 53
The Best Cigarettep. 55
Daysp. 57
Tuesday, June 4, 1991p. 58
Canadap. 61
On Turning Tenp. 63
Workshopp. 65
My Heartp. 68
Budapestp. 69
Dancing Toward Bethlehemp. 70
Monday Morningp. 71
Centerp. 72
Designp. 73
Pinupp. 74
Piano Lessonsp. 76
The Bluesp. 78
Man in Spacep. 79
Nightclubp. 80
Some Final Wordsp. 82
From Picnic, Lightning (1998)
Fishing on the Susquehanna in Julyp. 87
To a Stranger Born in Some Distant Country Hundreds of Years from Nowp. 89
I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey's Version of "Three Blind Mice"p. 90
Afternoon with Irish Cowsp. 92
Marginaliap. 94
Some Daysp. 97
Picnic, Lightningp. 98
Morningp. 100
Bonsaip. 101
Shoveling Snow with Buddhap. 103
Snowp. 105
Japanp. 107
Victoria's Secretp. 109
Lines Composed Over Three Thousand Miles from Tintern Abbeyp. 113
Paradelle for Susanp. 116
Lines Lost Among Treesp. 117
Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothesp. 119
The Night Housep. 121
Splitting Woodp. 123
The Death of the Hatp. 126
Passengersp. 128
Where I Livep. 130
Aristotlep. 132
New Poems
Dharmap. 137
Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Sung Dynasty, I Pause to Admire the Length and Clarity of Their Titlesp. 138
Snow Dayp. 140
Insomniap. 142
Madmenp. 144
Sonnetp. 146
Idiomaticp. 147
The Waitressp. 148
The Butterfly Effectp. 151
Serenadep. 152
The Three Wishesp. 154
Pavilionp. 156
The Moviesp. 158
Jealousyp. 160
Tomesp. 162
Man Listening to Discp. 164
Scotlandp. 166
Novemberp. 168
The Iron Bridgep. 169
The Flight of the Readerp. 171