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Collins: Sailing Around the RoomIt’s Easter morning. No Easter eggs hunts or getting ready for Mass or even Quaker meeting for us, though. We do have two family gatherings beginning at noon, so I should be slicing strawberries and rinsing radishes for three salads. But I started to read, and then to Google (always a time thief), and then to blog (another time thief).

Since April is National Poetry Month, I want to read some books of poetry—a genre I neglect. I read the The Writer’s Almanac daily and have found some amazingly beautiful works there (along with the occasional stinker) but rarely extend my reading. (Mary Oliver‘s work is an exception; I’m a fan.)

I had on hand Sailing Around the Room, picked up at the Quaker Book Sale last summer, so that seemed a good place to begin. It’s a collection of new and selected poems, thus offering a chance to sample Collins’ poetry across a span of years; the earliest poems are from 1988 (The Apple That Astonished Paris), while the “new” poems are earlier than 2001, the copyright of the collection. At the time of publication, Collins was Poet Laureate of the United States (so the back cover proclaims), something I may have vaguely known already.

I immediately fell in love with many of these poems. They’re grounded in the everyday and brimming with original imagery and elegant language. Poignant and funny, sly and sad, hopeful and tinged with regret. Unlike prose, a collection of poetry is difficult to read at a slog, so I’ve been dipping into it here and there. After sampling a few too many poems in a row this morning, I took a breather to learn more about Billy Collins via Google.

Almost immediately, I stumbled across a post on a blog called Scarriet, that was defending Collins against another poet, Silliman, who’d apparently made fun of Collins by comparing him to Edgar Guest, that popular newspaper bard of cloying rhyme and glib sentiment. The post, with its ensuing arguments among the poster and his commenters, scrolled on and on and on. A cat fight about accessibility and obscurity, the Language poets and popularity with 1% of the reading public and the ability to appeal to thirteen-year old girls. I was way out of my depth and reminded of why I shied away from pursuing an advanced degree in English: the analysis and counter-analysis can really suck the pleasure out of reading a poem! But as my husband pointed out, this post demonstrated the wonder of the Internet: all these opinions can be given voice.

It’s long past time to make the salads and feed the dogs and grind the coffee and begin this day. Just two more brief thoughts, however, prompted by how I began this post, with a reference to The Writer’s Almanac.

In my Googling, I discovered that some of Billy Collins’ popularity was due to his appearances on A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor’s radio show. Keillor is also the editor of The Writer’s Almanac and poetry collections such as Pretty Good Poems. No poetry snob he—nor I: I’ve been content to find some old favorites and new pleasures there. Secondly, The Writer’s Almanac introduced me to the poet Jane Kenyon, whose poems I truly do love. Perhaps I’ll look for one of her collections to read this month, or this year. (Kenyon’s widower, the poet Donald Hall, has also been a guest on PHC.)