The Art of Drowning

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Lovely poems--lovely in a way almost nobody's since Roethke's are. Limpid, gently and consistently startling, more serious than they seem, they describe all the worlds that are and were and some others besides."--John Updike
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Lovely poems--lovely in a way almost nobody's since Roethke's are. Limpid, gently and consistently startling, more serious than they seem, they describe all the worlds that are and were and some others besides."--John Updike
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822955672
  • Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/1995
  • Series: Pitt Poetry Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 95
  • Sales rank: 797,783
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Billy Collins
Enjoying a popularity unheard of for most poets, Billy Collins has had a remarkable late-life surge, aided by NPR exposure and his 2001 and 2002 appointments as the U.S. poet laureate. His style is engaging, conversational, funny, and surprising.


In 1985, the humorist Calvin Trillin suggested that Robert Penn Warren would never have been named Poet Laureate if he'd been known as plain Bob Warren. Trillin might be surprised at the 2002 appointment of Billy Collins -- whose laid-back name suits his open-collar-and-blue-jeans appearance, as well as his unpretentious writing style -- to a second term as U.S. Poet Laureate.

But then, Collins himself might be a little surprised. Like most poets, he toiled in obscurity for years, snowed under by rejections from small literary journals. As recently as 1997, he couldn't interest a commercial publisher in his fifth book of poems, Picnic, Lightning. But word of mouth and Collins' appearances on National Public Radio helped push sales of the book, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, far beyond the usual figures for a volume of poetry from a university press. A previous book was reissued, Random House signed him up for a three-book deal, and Collins was on his way to fame and comparative fortune.

Why is Collins so popular now? One term often applied to his work is "accessible," though he prefers the term "hospitable." "I think accessible just means that the reader can walk into the poem without difficulty," he explained to Elizabeth Farnsworth on the PBS NewsHour. Collins is also very funny -- and that, too, is inviting. For Collins, anything from the barking of a neighbor's dog to the egg-salad stain on a copy of The Catcher in the Rye can be a fit subject for a poem.

But Collins sees accessibility and humor as means to an end. The purpose of a poem, he believes, is to take the reader on an imaginative journey. "Poetry is my cheap means of transportation," he told a New York Times interviewer. "By the end of the poem the reader should be in a different place from where he started. I would like him to be slightly disoriented at the end, like I drove him outside of town at night and dropped him off in a cornfield."

Critics have sometimes charged that Collins' language is too prosaic, his middle-class milieu too smugly comfortable. But many of his contemporaries, including John Updike, Gerald Stern and Edward Hirsch, have admired his originality, wit and intelligence. As Richard Howard put it: "Mr. Collins is funny without being silly, moving without being silly, and brainy without being silly. If only he were silly, we should know how to 'place' him. But he is merely -- merely! -- funny, moving, brainy. That will have to do."

Good To Know

Collins grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens, where his electrician father sometimes brought home issues of Poetry magazine from an office on Wall Street. "He wanted me to go to Harvard Business School," Collins said in a Hope magazine interview. "If he had known the effect of those magazines, he probably would have burned them."

As Poet Laureate, Collins launched a well-received program called Poetry 180, which encourages high schools to read a contemporary poem together each day, preferably by having a student, teacher or staff member read the poem aloud.

Collins is a professor of English at Lehman College of the City University of New York. He lives in Somers, N.Y.

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    1. Also Known As:
      William James Collins
    2. Hometown:
      Somers, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 22, 1941
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Holy Cross College, 1963; Ph.D. in Romantic poetry, University of California at Riverside, 1971

Table of Contents

Dear Reader 3
Consolation 7
Osso Buco 8
Directions 10
Influence 12
Water Table 14
Reading in a Hammock 16
Print 17
Sunday Morning with the Sensational Nightingales 18
Cheers 20
The Best Cigarette 22
Metropolis 24
Days 26
Tuesday, June 4, 1991 27
The Art of Drowning 33
Canada 34
The Biography of a Cloud 36
Death Beds 38
Conversion 40
Horizon 41
The City of Tomorrow 42
Thesaurus 44
Fiftieth Birthday Eve 46
On Turning Ten 48
Shadow 50
Workshop 51
Keats's Handwriting 57
Budapest 59
My Heart 60
Romanticism 61
Monday Morning 63
Dancing Toward Bethlehem 64
The First Dream 65
Sweet Talk 66
Dream 67
Man in Space 68
Philosophy 69
While Eating a Pear 71
The End of the World 72
Center 74
Design 75
The Invention of the Saxophone 79
Medium 81
Driving Myself to a Poetry Reading 83
Pinup 84
Piano Lessons 86
Exploring the Coast of Birdland 89
The Blues 91
Nightclub 92
Some Final Words 94
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