The Art of Drowning – by Billy Collins

While a number of the poems in this book have been re-published in the compilation Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems, this collection is in and of itself a gem. Billy Collins’ poetry is both wry and genuine, and always full of wit. Each poem is clear and accessible, yet it brings us a moment of truth, often stemming from something quite ordinary: a gospel song on the radio, a stroll through a museum, a good of drowning

Billy Collins has a gift for humor. Even the title poem in this collection (which seems as though it would be rather morbid) draws forth a chuckle. It deals with the phenomenon of one’s life flashing before one’s eyes, moments before death. The poet describes, “Your whole existence going off in your face/ in an eyebrow-singeing explosion of biography–/ nothing like the three large volumes you envisioned.” In so many circles, poetry has become serious, esoteric, and inaccessible. These poems come back to the human level — the level of laughter, of wonder, of curiosity.

Just to give you a taste:

Sweet Talk

You are not the Mona Lisa
with that relentless look.
Or Venus borne over the froth
of waves on a pink half shell.
Or an odalisque by Delacroix,
veils lapping at your nakedness.

You are more like the sunlight
of Edward Hopper,
especially when it slants
against the eastern side
of a white clapboard house
in the early hours of the morning,
with no figure standing
at a window in a violet bathrobe,
just the sunlight,
the columns of the front porch,
and the long shadows
they throw down
upon the dark green lawn, baby.

edward hopper

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