Good Minds Suggest—Billy Collins's Favorite Works of Poetry

Posted by Goodreads on December 9, 2013
Billy Collins's accessible and good-natured poetry is more influenced by the antics of Bugs Bunny than the great works of Coleridge or Wordsworth. But despite—and perhaps because of—all that, his words never fail to be profound and true. His latest book, Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems, is one of the finalists in our 2013 Goodreads Choice Awards, and it's easy to see why. For Collins, humor is always a knife rather than a shield, and the small mysteries of our lives can lead to moments of wonder. A New Yorker born and raised, Collins was the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003, during which time he wrote "The Names," remembering victims of 9/11. That position, and that poem, cemented his spot as one of America's few popular poets—a role he's embraced with entertaining readings to audiences that number in the thousands.

So what does a prizewinning poet like to read? Here are Collins's picks for books of poetry that would make excellent holiday gifts!

Search Party: Collected Poems by William Matthews
"He's been called the closest thing American poetry has to a Horace, an urban and urbane poet who is happy to allow his learning (vast) and his pleasures (jazz, wine, talk…) into his elegant verse. And did I mention his wisdom, carefully inserted at just the right place in his meditations. Opening lines: 'Don't play too much, don't play/too loud, don't play the melody.' 'The Accompanist.'"

Bringing Together: Uncollected Early Poems 1958-1989 by Maxine Kumin
"This collection provides glimpses into a poet growing into the mature work that made her a major voice in the choral group that is contemporary poetry. One can see the learning of the line in this variety pack of poems about darkness, diaries, and of course, pastures and horses. Opening lines: 'Wearing the beard of divinity, King Tut / hunts the hippopotamus of evil.' 'Remembering King Tut at the Pearl Harbor Exhibit.'"

Answering Back: Living Poets Reply to the Poetry of the Past edited by Carol Ann Duffy
"A gathering of examples of poets talking back to their predecessors in tones that range from respect to trespass. The reader is let in on the Great Conversation among poets, a series of dialogues that flows back and forth through history. The repeated lesson is that growth and invention are really just the uses of influence. Opening lines: 'I'm leaving the Isle of Innisfree. / I never liked it much: / The clay and the wattle hutch / Was far too small for me.' By R.V. Baily."

Selected and Collected Poems by Bill Knott
"Pick up any poetry book by this man and you are in for a series of wild surprises. He is one of a small group of poets who can take us on wild, imaginative journeys in only a few lines while using a very plain diction. He makes the rest of us look like seventh graders in a talent show. Opening lines: 'Hair is heaven's water flowing eerily over us / Often a someone drifts off down their long hair and is lost.' 'Hair Poem.'"

Collected Poems by Ron Padgett
"Here they are all! A giant stack of your favorites from America's most wiggy poet. And one of its most friendly. There is a lot of boy in the mature Padgett, and he has never tired of the game of connecting things that no one ever thought to connect before. Favorite line: 'The Missouri River is a tribute to the Mississippi.' 'The Complete Works.'"

Vote for your own favorites on Listopia: Best Poetry Books.

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Valerie (new)

Valerie Morton I would follow Billy Collins' recommendations any day. He himself is one of my favourite poets. When all other poetry fails to connect I can always rely on his to inspire me. I already have Answering Back and would endorse that recommendation. Great read. Thanks Billy.

message 2: by Michael (new)

Michael Cavender I used to try reading poetry in The New Yorker and was usually left dazed and confused. When I discovered Billy Collins, I discovered a poetry I could love, and that led me to a lot of other wonder poets who didn't strive for obtuseness. Thanks so much Billy!

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