Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins

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Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins is a slim volume of poetry. I picked it up in honor of April being National Poetry Month. I limited myself to a few poems each week, and I’ve been enjoying it for the past few weeks.

I’ve mentioned before that I really enjoyed Billy Collins’ style, and I really do. It’s straightforward and unassuming. He writes as if poetry is the easiest thing in the world, and the reader is convinced it is. He loves it, and that passion for what he is doing comes across. I was even inspired to try and write some poetry last month. It’s not easy: it’s very hard. It’s hard to capture emotions, moments, and images in just a few lines. And yet, Billy Collins does just that.

His themes are likewise real: I can relate to nearly every poem. He writes about growing older, being a professor, reading books, writing poetry, and waking up at night with insomnia. And yet, his poems are deceptively simple: behind each simple scene is emotion and struggle. He is real, and I feel I’ve met him, even though his poetry may be fiction just as prose often is.

My favorite poem in the volume was “Introduction to Poetry,” which was previously published in a different volume. You can read it in full here.

My next favorite poem was the “The Flight of the Reader” (first published in Pif). As the last poem in the volume, it is a perfect explanation of why I loved this volume of poetry. He is describing his thoughts, as the writer, of us, the reader of a volume of his poetry. He’s pondering why we’re still reading and what he’d do if we stopped reading.

excerpt from “The Flight of the Reader”

Is it because I do not pester you
with the invisible gnats of meaning,
never release the whippets of anxiety from their crates,
or hold up my monstrous mirror,
a thing the size of a playing field?

Whatever makes you stay,
I hate to think of that morning
when I will wake up to find you gone,
heading toward the open sea,
dragging the cables that bound us together,
leaving me with nothing more to say.

find a copy of this poem and read the rest!

I loved reading that poem. It made me want to pick up the volume and start over at the beginning again, a few poems every week.

Do you like poetry with “invisible gnats of meaning” or poems that are more straightforward and story-like? I enjoy both types, and I did enjoy Billy Collins’ poems because they didn’t make me sort things out.

Reviewed on May 22, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I’m glad you liked the book! I still haven’t reviewed it; I’m not sure exactly what to say since I spent all of April gushing about how great I think Billy Collins is. This review was very good though, I agree with your assessments of his style and themes — those are some of the big reasons I love him so much.

  • That’s a great idea to read a couple of poems a week to make it stretch out. Also just a great way to read poetry in general–not something that you want to marathon read.

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