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Questions About Angels

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  1,578 ratings  ·  129 reviews
Billy Collins can pack the house. Funny and laid-back, his clear, often brief poems are easy to understand and enjoy -- which is why his readings are sometimes standing-room-only affairs. Collins may be a college professor and NEA-grant recipient, but he's not above using a disinfectant ad as an epigraph.

"Public restrooms give me the willies," reads the epigraph to a poem

Hardcover, 88 pages
Published April 6th 2003 by University of Pittsburgh Press (first published 1991)
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Average rating 4.22  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,578 ratings  ·  129 reviews

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Nov 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I decided to try out Billy Collins after I enjoyed one of his poems in Good Poems for Hard Times. I wish my poetry journey had started here, I really do. Why do teachers make young learners struggle with John Donne and George Herbert when there is something accessible and relatable right here? It's like starting kids off with The Metamorphosis instead of The Cat in the Hat and then being surprised you don't have lifelong readers.

Ranting aside, I found Collins' poetry to be in very accessible la
Matthew Mousseau
Jan 05, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
The cover and the title of this collection are both misleading. Very misleading. The collection is divided into four parts. Of the four parts, only one (the second part) reflects what the cover and title would suggest - that is, a poetry collection dealing with religious themes. And even in the second part, these religious themes are minimal. Poems with titles like "Questions About Angels", "A Wonder of the World", "The Afterlife", and "The Dead" are likewise misleading.

"Questions About Angels"
May 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all readers, especially those interested in how a poem can make you smile, even laugh
Recommended to Brent by: Atlanta-Fulton Public Library
Shelves: poetry, favorites
Big fun!
Billy Jepma
Jun 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020, poetry, faves
"We die only when we run out of footprints."

This might be one of my most favorite books of poetry. Billy Collins is a gift.
Sep 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry-read
This superb poetry collection has been the fourth I've read from my favourite poet Billy Collins. Looking forward to reading more of his collections. ...more
Feb 28, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Angels (or at least the stodgier ones)
Recommended to Alan by: Kim
Never be ashamed of kindergarten—
it is the alphabet's only temple.
"Instructions to the Artist," pp.54-55
Billy Collins is apparently something of a big deal. Poet Laureate of the United States, from 2001 to 2003. Frequent guest on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion. Subject of a documentary film in 2003 as well. Even so, I can't recall ever having run into Collins' work before reading Questions about Angels. Of course, I must also concede, and not for the first time, that poetry isn't rea
James Murphy
Feb 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whimsy is a good word to apply to Collins' work. The world amuses him. He wallows in life's innumerable twists and turns. I think I've mentioned before how much charm his sense of humor lends to his poetry. It's this that makes the reader smile with pleasure at reading a poem about a jazz combo impatient at the lateness of the hour as an angel is intent on dancing on the head of a pin forever. I laughed at Jack's wish to write his love a letter of apology from the top of the beanstalk. His imagi ...more
Jul 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: inspiring
I haven't been into reading poetry since I outgrew Shel Silverstein. Billy Collins is fun! Here's my favorite excerpt:

Of all the questions you might want to ask
about angels, the only one you ever hear
is how many can dance on the head of a pin...

It is designed to make us think in millions,
billions, to make us run out of numbers and collapse
into infinity, but perhaps the answer is simply one:
one female angel dancing alone in her stocking feet,
a small jazz combo working in the background.

She sways
Julie Ehlers
Dec 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
I find the newer collections by Billy Collins are rather preoccupied with mortality, which is understandable but not always fun to read about, so it was nice to go back to this earlier collection, first published in 1991, to find him in high spirits and still trying to figure out women. Favorites: "The Wires of the Night" (haunting poem about death; I realize this is ironic given what I just said a few lines ago), the wonderful "Nostalgia," and the title poem. ...more
Rachel Watson
Mar 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't say enough about how much I loved this poetry anthology. Collins pulls you in with his wit and then spins deep truth about ordinary, simple-on-the-surface concepts. His playfulness and humor permeate every poem, and his creativity and imagination are seemingly boundless.

If you haven't read this already, I highly recommend it!
Sep 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
His poetry just didn’t touch me.

There are a lot of references and name dropping which I did pick up, but at some point, very early one, it seems more like an arrogant waving of his knowledge than a real poetic effort. Maybe I’m missing something. Strange.
Alexander Rolfe
Sep 12, 2015 rated it it was ok
I liked Forgetfulness best, but also The Willies, and Weighing the Dog. And I liked the thought of kindergarten being the alphabet's only temple. ...more
Liz Gray
Aug 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book of early (1991) Billy Collins poems in a used bookstore in Provincetown this summer, and have been savoring it for a couple of weeks. It includes some of my favorite Collins poems—“Forgetfulness” and “The Death of Allegory”—and introduced me to many new ones. His writing is thoughtful, relatable, and often humorous. I like the way he thinks about the world and his place in it.
Mar 22, 2014 rated it liked it
I like Collins as a conceptual poet (which I suspect he might hate). I think he does plainspoken, funny, and quirky well. I appreciate his accessibility. That said . . . is this poetry? I know it is, but it doesn't always feel like poetry to me. It lacks the lines that seize you, that create those "stop and process" moments--or perhaps it just delivers them in such offhand, shrugging tones that it almost makes the messages more inaccessible because they don't pull you in, make you think, make yo ...more
Krista Stevens
Apr 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
So many favorites...
"The Norton Anthology of English Literature" - reference to History - Paula S.

"Questions Abut Angels"

"The First Geniuses"
"They have yet to discover fire, much less invent the wheel,/so they wander a world mostly dark and motionless/wondering what to do with their wisdom, like young girls wonder what to do with their hair."

"The Afterlife"
"They wish they could wake in the morning like you/and stand at a window examining the winter trees,/ every branch traced with the ghost writ
Jan 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Collins has a singular voice, that manages to be beautiful and humorous with simple language which expresses complex ideas. His reading voice is also terrific. He seems like a guy you would meet in a bar and strike up a conversation with, and he would seem nice and normal, and then he would just start dropping pointed pearls out of nowhere and you would damn well buy that man another beer.
Jun 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
If you were gifted enough to experience language like you experience a sunset in a new and amazing landscape, you would probably find Collins' mix of language and experience unexceptional and uninspiring. For the rest of us, it's a fascinating revelation. ...more
Alberta Adji
Apr 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
The best relaxing poems are in!
Loving Billy Collins forever, for his soothing, mild gossamer thread woven words!
J Chritsian
Jan 12, 2016 rated it did not like it
It is very, very jarring to read this stuff alongside a big grip of Alice Notley. I like Alice Notley a lot better.
Caroline Mann
Apr 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
So let’s say there’s a Mt. Rushmore of American poets and whoever else you insist belongs up there, it seems like Billy Collins has to get one of the spots.

Why? Because his poetry is so inescapably American. When you read those classic British poets, even at their most passionate, you can sense they’re sitting up straight, that they’re wearing long sleeves and a stiff collar. Collins gives the impression of a warm sweater over slumped shoulders - comfort, not laziness.

His poems may not belong
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Billy Collins makes me laugh. He writes about situations that are usually serious and imagines them as even more serious, which is funny to me. Take death, for instance. In his poem "The Dead," he recalls how people like to say that "the dead are always looking down on us." This could (and maybe should) be a sobering thought, but you have to read what Collins follows up with:

"The dead are always looking down on us, they say,

while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich,

they are looki
Dec 13, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2019
First, a disclaimer: I have had very little exposure to poetry and it is very possible that I have zero ability to gauge its quality. That said, there are 54 poems in this collection and I didn't hate 7 of them (note: didn't hate ≠ liked). My biggest complaint is that Billy Collins seems to be inexhaustibly interested in weather metaphors and that kind of whimsy is just not my thing. 1 star

Poems I did not hate: American Sonnet, The First Geniuses, Purity, The Last Man on Earth, The Wires of the
May 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The poetry of Billy Collins is infectious. Here’s one of my favorites from, Questions About Angels:


“The name of the author is first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,

as if one by one the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

No wonder you rise in the middl
Karen Yelton-Curtis
Jun 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I was looking for some poetic inspiration to help me write this afternoon, so I pulled this book and Collins' Horoscopes for the Dead out of my poetry bookcase. The author's earlier collections showcase his sense of humor, which has been much less visible in more recent publications. His use of extended metaphor is exqusite; the poem "Jack" features the fairytale giant as a stand-in for scale of a relationship faux pas, while "Pie Man represents the departure from childhood. Collins is a master ...more
Jul 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Aside from one use of the word "retarded", this book was awesome. I just happened to find it for $2 and expected nothing. "Questions About Angels" (title poem) is my favorite poem I have read this year. So, here's a snippet:

"...What about their sleeping habits, the fabric of their robes,
their diet of unfiltered divine light?
What goes on inside their luminous heads? Is there a wall
these tall presences can look over and see hell?

If an angel fell off a cloud would he leave a hole
in a river and woul
Madeleine Lesieutre
Jun 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I actually really liked this. The first time I read a collection of Billy Collins poems (“Sailing Alone Around the Room”), I was annoyed by the meta. It seemed that most of the poems in that collection were either about reading or writing (two things that I love!), but there’s more to life than that. I also remember feeling that some of his descriptions felt cliche. But anyway, over the past year I have come across some Billy Collins poems, individually, that I liked. So, I thought I’d try anoth ...more
Aug 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I wish I had added this to my currently reading, because I'd love to know how long it took me to read a short poetry book on the toilet! Finding a collection by one of my favourite poets in the bathroom of a new if temporary house was a wonderful coincidence and I loved reading it - Billy Collins' style is so comforting to me, and he so often gets right to the heart of mundane moments. 'American Sonnet', the opener of the collection was by far my favourite, and I will cherish it for a long time ...more
Aug 10, 2021 added it
“no wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.”
“i could not imagine such loneliness, such coldness. but tonight as i drive home over these hilly roads i see him sinking behind stands of winter trees and rising again to show his familiar face. and when he comes into full view over open fields he looks like a young man who has fallen in love with the dark earth, a pale bachelor, well-groomed and full of melancholy, his round mouth open as
Muhammad Salim
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
A great collection of poems. B Collins is a fab writer, his poetic sentiments charm and propel forward. His writing is inspirational, the subjects are many and varied. The pieces are very enjoyable to read. A book worth re-reading. A joy and an education. 'Dog' 'Wolf' 'Student of Clouds''Candle Hat' ... all good. ...more
May 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I’m a total fan of Collins and this work didn’t disappoint. Just full of fun little treasures. One of the reasons I enjoy purchasing used books is that sometimes they have a story to tell. This was a “book prize” from the College of the Holy Cross and sponsored by alumni from the classes of ’81 and ’82. Kinda cool. Evidently the winner no longer wanted the prize.
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William A. ("Billy") Collins is an American poet. He served two terms as the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. In his home state, Collins has been recognized as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library (1992) and selected as the New York State Poet for 2004. ...more

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His Favorite Works of Poetry: The former poet laureate and Goodreads Choice Best Poetry Finalist for the collection Aimless Love offers his top five.
15 likes · 2 comments
“The History Teacher

Trying to protect his students' innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
"How far is it from here to Madrid?"
"What do you call the matador's hat?"

The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his notes and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.”
“…balancing the wish to be lost with the need to be found.” 39 likes
More quotes…