Sailing Alone Around the Room:
New and Selected Poems By Billy Collins
Random House/$21.95

Billy Collins is a fine poet. More to the point, he has a sense of humor and a flair for relating poetically to everyday situations. Although he's certainly erudite and intelligent, he's never flashy. Collins is not a poet to get amped up on his own IQ and start dropping metatextual witticisms about his own terza rima and epic similes about the delicate toes of Terpsichore, yon fair muse of the dance. I'm not even sure what those things mean, and although Collins probably does, he's not going to make his readers feel stupid. We like this about Collins.

All kidding aside, Sailing Along Around the Room presents a best-of collection of Collins' work, nearly 100 poems, 20 of them brand new and the rest selected from his earlier books. This volume has been timed obviously to take advantage of Collins' rising stature as the United States' new Poet Laureate, but who wouldn't have done the same? The poems in this collection are playful, surprising, vulnerable, and lucidly artistic.

Consider, for example, the humor and imaginative compassion of the first 16 lines of "I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey's Version of "Three Blind Mice.'":

And I start wondering how they came to be blind.

If it was congenital, they could be brothers and sister,

and I think of the poor mother

brooding over her sightless young triplets.

Or was it a common accident, all three caught

in a searing explosion, a firework perhaps?

If not,

if each came to his or her blindness separately,

how did they ever manage to find one another?

Would it not be difficult for a blind mouse

to locate even one fellow mouse with vision

let alone two other blind ones?

And how, in their tiny darkness,

could they possibly have run after a farmer's wife

or anyone else's wife for that matter?

Not to mention why.

In an everyday moment comes a convergence of events and thought that make for a poem, and Collins is quick to pounce on the matter of these mice. But, setting pesky English teacher-interpretation aside, if you cracked a smile after reading at least one of the lines above, you might just find it worth your while to pick up this fine collection of verse.

—Mark Hayes

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