Book Review: Questions About Angels: Poems by Billy Collins

questionsaboutangelsTitle: Questions About Angels: Poems
Author: Billy Collins
Genre: Poetry
Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from the public library.
First line: We do not speak like Petrarch or wear a hat like Spenser / and it is not fourteen lines / like furrows in a small, carefully plowed field / but the picture postcard, a poem on vacation, / that forces us to sing our songs in little rooms / or pour our sentiments into measuring cups.

Reading poetry is such a personal experience. There are poets that other people rave over and while I may enjoy some of their work, other of their poems will leave me cold or unmoved. Then there are my favorite poets; reading their work is something to savor, one of the best things about life. So far, I’ve found three poets whose work moves me in that way: Wendell Berry, Madeleine L’Engle, and Billy Collins.

Reading Billy Collins is like soaking in a hot bath after a long day, or diving into a dish of your favorite ice cream. His poems are deceptively simple – you don’t have to read them over and over again to decipher their meaning. And yet you will want to read them over and over again for the pure beauty and joy of them, and because you’ll find something new each time you do. His poems alternately make me laugh, bring a lump to my throat, and elicit a sigh of pleasure or melancholy when I finish one. There really are no words to use to tell you how much I adore his work. I will leave you with some snippets of poems from Questions About Angels: Poems.

Is there a more gentle way to go into the night
than to follow an endless rope of sentences
and then to slip drowsily under the surface of a page

into the first tentative flicker of a dream,
passing out of the bright precincts of attention
like cigarette smoke passing through a window screen?

All late readers know this sinking feeling of falling
into the liquid of sleep and then rising again
to the call of a voice that you are holding in your hands,

as if pulled from the sea back into a boat
where a discussion is raging on some subject or other,
on Patagonia or Thoroughbreds or the nature of war.

Is there a better method of departure by night
than this quiet bon voyage with an open book,
the sole companion who has come to see you off,

to wave you into the dark waters beyond language?

~ from Reading Myself to Sleep

Did you know that it is possible if you read a poem
enough times, if you read it over and over without stopping,
that you can make the author begin to spin gently,
even affectionately, in his grave?

~ from The Norton Anthology of English Literature

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11 Responses to Book Review: Questions About Angels: Poems by Billy Collins

  1. Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)
    Twitter: SavvyVerseWit
    says:

    I really enjoy Billy Collins as well. I think he is one of the most prolific and well-known of the contemporary poets. Thanks for sharing this review and book with us. I had not heard of this one.
    .-= Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)´s last blog ..Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World by Abigail Reynolds =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Serena – I have enjoyed each one of his books that I’ve read – I really need to get some for my own collection, because they have all been library copies.

  2. Carrie, I remember bringing this very book home from the library and reading through it, gulping down the poems. I can’t imagine *anyone* not liking Billy Collins.

    My niece went to Exeter (a prep school) and Billy Collins gave a reading there. My SIL said it was like he was a rock star…adulation and excitement.

    Our library also had “Billy Collins LIve” an audio CD. SO WORTH OWNING. We’ve listened to it two or three times. Amazon sells it for $13.57, but I bet if you surfed around you could find it for a better price. I honestly believe our family could listen to this once a season.
    .-= Carol in Oregon´s last blog ..Reading Plan 2010 & Book Giveaway =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Carol – I am definitely going to look for that CD! have you seen some of the YouTube videos where people have done animation to Collins reading some of his poetry? I could waste hours watching / listening to them. 🙂

  3. iliana says:

    Oh the third stanza is divine! I love his poetry. I only have a couple of his books but need to add them all to my library. Thank you for your review of this book – I haven’t read this one before so will have to look for it.
    .-= iliana´s last blog ..Book Review: Sweethearts =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Iliana – I know – that third stanza is as perfect as writing can get. 🙂

  4. Kim
    Twitter: BookstoreK
    says:

    I love Billy Collins! I’m going to look at this collection.
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..A New Year’s Literary, uh, Culinary Resolution =-.

  5. unfinishedperson
    Twitter: unfnshdprsn
    says:

    I had to stop by this review when checking out your Sunday Salon post, because I love Billy Collins, and thought I remembered that you did too. Luckily, when I got here, I found that to be the case. If I hadn’t, oh, boy, you would have been in big, big trouble ;).
    .-= unfinishedperson´s last blog ..Just A (Reading) Fool is dead, long live Unfinished Person =-.

  6. Pingback: BOOKS AND MOVIES » National Poetry Month: Billy Collins