Monday, July 6, 2015

"The Trouble with Poetry" by Billy Collins

I've been a fan of Billy Collins' poetry for, oh, ten years or so now.  Ever since I picked up a copy of his collection Nine Horses, I think.  I saw The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems on the poetry shelf at Barnes and Noble as I was grazing there a month or two ago, and bought it on impulse because I don't read as much poetry as I used to, and I miss it.

Collins reminds me of two of my other favorite poets, Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg.  All three of them are adept at taking an moment from modern life and examining it to see what it says about the people experiencing it.  By doing so, they get me to figure out what I have in common with them and with humanity at a whole.  They prefer concrete images and ordinary words over lofty ideals and literary obfuscation.  And yet, Collins, Frost, and Sandburg all have achieved literary significance with their simplicity.

All of which is me using big words to say:  they write simple-yet-profound poems that I like.  Collins also has a wry humor that reminds me of another favorite poet, Kenneth Koch.  For instance, there's this bit from the titular poem:

"the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the  writing of more poetry."

And this bit of advice from "The Student," gleaned from a poetry instruction book:

"When at a loss for an ending,
have some brown hens standing in the rain."

That made me laugh aloud -- haven't we all read a poem that involved such weird, dreary imagery?

Did I mention that Billy Collins was America's Poet Laureate for two terms?  Yup.  And yet, his poetry is super approachable -- I highly recommend him, especially for people who are afraid they won't "get" poetry.  Trust me, you'll get Collins.  Reading his poetry is, for me, like hearing a friend tell a little story about something they did or saw or thought about.  Conversational, interesting, and sometimes profound or sad or funny or poignant.

My favorite poems in this collection are "Monday," "Flock," "Building with Its Face Blown Off," "The Lanyard," "The Student," and "The Trouble with Poetry."  Just so you know :-)

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for occasional mild sensuality.  Nothing nasty, nothing overt.


  1. I've just started to appreciate poetry since 2-3 years ago. There is a well-known poet in my country that makes poetry sounds easy and exciting. He also wrote a book about poetry appreciations that makes me confidence reading any poetry and interpret it as I like. I'm really interested in this review. I think I should try Billy Collins' when I have a chance :)

    1. I didn't really appreciate poetry until I was in college. I had a professor who helped me do just what that poet helped you do: gave me confidence, made poetry exciting, and helped me interpret it in ways that make sense to me. I hope you like Billy Collins' poetry!

  2. Oh! I can't wait to read this! I've found that I love to right poetry, so I've been trying to incorporate more poetry into my regular reading. I have been reading more romantic poets lately like Byron and Longfellow (who is perhaps my favorite poet), but I have not read a lot of modern poetry. Which modern poets would you suggest to a person who has not read a lot of modern poetry?

    1. I do enjoy the Romantics, though in small doses. I'm partial to Wordsworth myself, and Longfellow.

      For more modern poetry, you can't go wrong with the three I mentioned here: Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, and Billy Collins. Frost and Sandburg are from the first half of the 1900s -- they both died in the '60s. Collins is still writing today. I also love Kenneth Koch, whose poetry is playful and sometimes fantastical.

      All four of those are approachable and don't tend to get icky or weird (like, say, Ginsberg and the other Beat poets).

  3. I love Frost, so I guess Collins is now a must-read! Thanks for the recommendation!

    1. I hope you enjoy his work! I find him light-hearted, yet thoughtful.


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