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The Art of Drowning

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This collection of poems has a subject matter ranging from the gustatory pleasures of osso buco to an analysis of the handwriting of Keats; from the art form of the calendar pinup to blues music.


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This collection of poems has a subject matter ranging from the gustatory pleasures of osso buco to an analysis of the handwriting of Keats; from the art form of the calendar pinup to blues music.

30 review for The Art of Drowning

  1. 5 out of 5

    Julie G ("Doctor, my eyes!" Offline for a week)

    If you believe in the mindset that the best poetry arises from suffering, then this might not be the collection for you. Mr. Collins may be a poet, but he's certainly not a starving poet, nor much of a suffering one, either. . . (unless you view all humans as suffering, which has been suggested in urban legends for several millennia now). We all experience life differently, and we all suffer by existing, but Billy Collins just suffers with more. . . sophistication. . . what with his lamb shanks, h If you believe in the mindset that the best poetry arises from suffering, then this might not be the collection for you. Mr. Collins may be a poet, but he's certainly not a starving poet, nor much of a suffering one, either. . . (unless you view all humans as suffering, which has been suggested in urban legends for several millennia now). We all experience life differently, and we all suffer by existing, but Billy Collins just suffers with more. . . sophistication. . . what with his lamb shanks, his champagne, his Strauss sonatas and all. (I've been a poet all my life and I can not help but wonder. . . is it family money? Did he marry a brain surgeon? WTF, Billy? Okay, this is getting judgy. I'll stop). This is a polished suffering, poems related to us from a hammock and the complication of holding a glass of Pinot Noir in one hand, rocking the ropes of the hammock with the other. This compilation is probably best relatable to a 45+ crowd and would probably be best appreciated by a person who has never spent a night on a sidewalk or slept at a hotel with fresh stains on the sheets. But, circumstances aside, Mr. Collins is a poet who plays with language in a way that feels effortless and expresses more with less. His poetry isn't weighted down with unnecessary descriptors, and it has a clean ease that appeals quickly to the senses. He's clearly comfortable as an imagist, and the simpler the topic, the more effective the poem, the best example for me being the description of one perfect meal in the poem Osso Buco. I had several favorites here, but I will end this with my favorite lines from the poem, On Turning Ten: It seems only yesterday I used to believe there was nothing under my skin but light. If you cut me I would shine. But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life, I skin my knees. I bleed. Ah. You see? He's never slept on a sidewalk, but he has fallen down on one. It counts as suffering.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Connie G

    Billy Collins was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. He writes his poems in free verse. Most of Collins' work is about everyday things so they are accessible to almost everyone. He has a good sense of humor, and many of his poems are playful and fun. 3.5 stars. Billy Collins was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. He writes his poems in free verse. Most of Collins' work is about everyday things so they are accessible to almost everyone. He has a good sense of humor, and many of his poems are playful and fun. 3.5 stars.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

    After listening to Billy's Facebook broadcasts for months, I decided I needed all of his poetry books, so I just ordered this one. I've read many of the poems in other collections, but I love having it. Just read the last few poems last night - I've been reading a few a night until I finished, which has been an extremely excellent way of ending my day - and love all of it, but especially "Days," "Budapest," and "On Turning Ten." After listening to Billy's Facebook broadcasts for months, I decided I needed all of his poetry books, so I just ordered this one. I've read many of the poems in other collections, but I love having it. Just read the last few poems last night - I've been reading a few a night until I finished, which has been an extremely excellent way of ending my day - and love all of it, but especially "Days," "Budapest," and "On Turning Ten."

  4. 5 out of 5

    AnandaTashie

    Enjoyed this book of poetry by Collins, especially the first section. Part 1 was a full-on 5 for me, the others a 4. However, since I loved the first part so very much, I'm giving the book a 5 overall. :D My favorite lines: p 9, Osso Buco, "In a while, one of us will go to bed / and the other one will follow. / Then we will slip below the surface of the night / into miles of water, drifting down and down / to the dark, soundless bottom / until the weight of dreams pulls us lower still, / below th Enjoyed this book of poetry by Collins, especially the first section. Part 1 was a full-on 5 for me, the others a 4. However, since I loved the first part so very much, I'm giving the book a 5 overall. :D My favorite lines: p 9, Osso Buco, "In a while, one of us will go to bed / and the other one will follow. / Then we will slip below the surface of the night / into miles of water, drifting down and down / to the dark, soundless bottom / until the weight of dreams pulls us lower still, / below the shale and layered rock, / beneath the shale and layered rock, / beneath the strata of hunger and pleasure, / into the broken bones of the earth itself, / into the marrow of the only place we know." p 11, Directions, "But it is hard to speak of these things / how the voice of light enters the body / and begin to recite their stories / how the earth holds us painfully against / its breast made of human and brambles / (...) taking the vast outside into ourselves." p 15, Water Table, "But some nights, I must tell you, / I go down there after everyone has fallen asleep. / I swim back and forth in the echoing blackness. / I sing a love song as well as I can, / lost for awhile in the home of the rain." p 21, Cheers, "Here's to the wind blowing against this lighted house / and to the vast, windless spaces between the stars." p 26, Days, "Each one is a gift, no doubt, / mysteriously placed in your waking hand / or set upon your forehead / moments before you open your eyes." p 29, Tuesday, June 4, 1991, "But tomorrow, dawn will come the way I picture her, // barefoot and disheveled, standing outside my window / in one of the fragile cotton dresses of the poor. / She will look at me with her thin arms extended, / offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light." p 49, On Turning Ten, "It seems only yesterday I used to believe / there was nothing under my skin but light. / If you cut me I would shine. / But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life, / I skin my knees. I bleed." p 72, The End of the World, "A gigantic door might close. A horrible bell could ring. / We could have fire, ice, bang, and whimper all at once. // But who has time to consider such horrors / when the world's body keeps pressing up against us / with the weight of its beauty, its dizzying sea cliffs / and coasting birds, its rolling fairways and deep pine woods?" p 75, Design, "This is the wheel of fortune, / the Arctic Circle. / This is the ring of Kerry / and the white rose of Tralee / I say to the ghosts of my family, / the dead fathers, / the aunt who drowned, / my unborn brothers and sisters, / my unborn children. / This is the sun with its glittering spokes / and the bitter moon."

  5. 4 out of 5

    Chris Shank

    2 and 1/2 stars. Gather around folks and I'll tell you why. Some books you have to sit with for a while after reading for a real appreciation to sink in. This volume of poems by Billy Collins, 2-time United States poet laureate, was one such book for me. As far as reading poems go, it is smooth and cool, paced nicely, and has no ponderous obstacles of personal-life allusions and intentional obscurantism sitting heavy in the path of interpretation. He feels much like someone helping you discover t 2 and 1/2 stars. Gather around folks and I'll tell you why. Some books you have to sit with for a while after reading for a real appreciation to sink in. This volume of poems by Billy Collins, 2-time United States poet laureate, was one such book for me. As far as reading poems go, it is smooth and cool, paced nicely, and has no ponderous obstacles of personal-life allusions and intentional obscurantism sitting heavy in the path of interpretation. He feels much like someone helping you discover the wonders around your hometown. He’s not trying to be avant guard, pushing the evolving cusp of modern poetry. He’s simply writing from the heart, and he is full of great insights. That being said, it wasn’t my favorite volume of poetry I have ever read. What? Wasn’t expecting that? While it was engaging, and cleansed my palate so to speak, I wouldn’t call this one of the most enlightening reads. It was a nice ride, but it wasn’t a step forward for me. I recognize Collins’ genius and value as a poet, and later while reading another poet, I appreciated more what it did for me, but it wasn’t something I’d seek out again anytime soon, because I’m not sure I grew as a result from reading it. I wasn’t prodded to think new thoughts or take new action…which is kind of a personal goal of mine when reading. I usually don’t read to simply pass time, or to read a ‘nice’ story. I’m still dipping the “blood of the universe” straight from the sun (Ray Bradbury), and I’ll be the first to admit, my personal standards are set high for the moment with regard to my taste in books. However, as I said, it was more of a tonic than I realized (at the time it mostly bored me), and I see now it helped me wash down the incredibly dense, immobile molasses that Dylan Thomas’ poetry can become where words are indiscriminately beat together and flung down in jarring closeness and bewildering lack of context. Collin’s writing isn’t academic or experimental poetry; it’s simply good, readable, and uplifting. It’s read-out-loud poetry. It’s thoughtful and spontaneous, profound and playful. If you’re looking for a book of poems to explore and rekindle your love of poetry, this may help. Collins is a good writer, but it was just okay for me. Don’t hate me for praising the chef but only nibbling his delicacies. I’m still devouring raw meat, yo.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    I like everything this guy writes. Thoughtful and a bit funny at times. What's not to like? I like everything this guy writes. Thoughtful and a bit funny at times. What's not to like?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    I loved some of the poems, some I just loved a few lines, and a couple I didn’t really like. But in the whole, this was a great book of poetry. My favorites are the ones that have a sly wit to them but also capture the mundane perfectly. I like many of the lists, but sometimes they take away from the rest of the poem. Standouts for me were Piano Lessons, Pinup, Man in Space, Reading in a Hammock, Osso Bucco, and Water Table.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joanne Merriam

    Billy Collins has visited my city a number of times in the past two years, including giving a two-day writing workshop which I was fortunate to attend, as well as several readings. I enjoy his poetry most read aloud and in person, where his charismatic reality distortion field is in full effect and I as an audience member forget that I don't like easy poetry with easy conclusions provided pre-packaged for me, so that in the end I must grudgingly admit that I quite enjoy his work despite all my t Billy Collins has visited my city a number of times in the past two years, including giving a two-day writing workshop which I was fortunate to attend, as well as several readings. I enjoy his poetry most read aloud and in person, where his charismatic reality distortion field is in full effect and I as an audience member forget that I don't like easy poetry with easy conclusions provided pre-packaged for me, so that in the end I must grudgingly admit that I quite enjoy his work despite all my theories about what poetry should be. If you like his poetry you'll certainly like this collection, which is, I think, quite representative of his work and has the advantage for me of containing my favourite of his poems, "Canada" (which readers can preview at The Poetry Foundation's website, where it is reproduced) about summers in Canada in his boyhood, which sound pretty similar to my own summers in Canada as a child. I think what Billy Collins does best is remind us of things we already know.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nolan Alber

    A rating system seems especially arbitrary for poetry.

  10. 5 out of 5

    rachel selene

    But it is hard to speak of these things how the voices of light enter the body and begin to recite their stories how the earth holds us painfully against its breast made of of humus and brambles how we who will soon be gone regard the entities that continue to return greener than ever my favorites: thesaurus, keats’s handwriting, the first dream, man in space

  11. 4 out of 5

    KarmA1966

    If this book only contained the titular poem it would be enough. I love the poem that much. I love the themes it explores -- how it touches on our fears, our memories, our self-inflated thoughts of the self, our egos reduced to the scales of a fish, and all of it wrapped in the familiar, humorous tone that Collins gives to even the grandest or gravest of themes he explores. I found a youtube video of the poem , an animated short, narrated by the author. And here, for your enjoyment, the poem i If this book only contained the titular poem it would be enough. I love the poem that much. I love the themes it explores -- how it touches on our fears, our memories, our self-inflated thoughts of the self, our egos reduced to the scales of a fish, and all of it wrapped in the familiar, humorous tone that Collins gives to even the grandest or gravest of themes he explores. I found a youtube video of the poem , an animated short, narrated by the author. And here, for your enjoyment, the poem itself: The Art Of Drowning I wonder how it all got started, this business about seeing your life flash before your eyes while you drown, as if panic, or the act of submergence, could startle time into such compression, crushing decades in the vice of your desperate, final seconds. After falling off a steamship or being swept away in a rush of floodwaters, wouldn't you hope for a more leisurely review, an invisible hand turning the pages of an album of photographs- you up on a pony or blowing out candles in a conic hat. How about a short animated film, a slide presentation? Your life expressed in an essay, or in one model photograph? Wouldn't any form be better than this sudden flash? Your whole existence going off in your face in an eyebrow-singeing explosion of biography- nothing like the three large volumes you envisioned. Survivors would have us believe in a brilliance here, some bolt of truth forking across the water, an ultimate Light before all the lights go out, dawning on you with all its megalithic tonnage. But if something does flash before your eyes as you go under, it will probably be a fish, a quick blur of curved silver darting away, having nothing to do with your life or your death. The tide will take you, or the lake will accept it all as you sink toward the weedy disarray of the bottom, leaving behind what you have already forgotten, the surface, now overrun with the high travel of clouds.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    While a number of the poems in this book have been recently 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 meal. The poet has a gift for humor. Even the title poem in t While a number of the poems in this book have been recently 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 meal. The poet 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. ***** If you appreciated this review, check out my blog at pagesandmargins.wordpress.com

  13. 4 out of 5

    Florence

    This slim volume of poems by a former US Poet Laureate appealed to me. Most of the poems dealt with everyday, commom themes. Occasionally, there was a line or two of truly beautiful or playfully droll imagery. Literary references, which usually are beyond my knowledge are few. Here's an example from one entitled "Influence": " I saw the doves milling around in the snow, their legs as thin as pencil leads." Yes, birds do seem extremely vulnerable in frigid weather, don't they? Here he is in "The This slim volume of poems by a former US Poet Laureate appealed to me. Most of the poems dealt with everyday, commom themes. Occasionally, there was a line or two of truly beautiful or playfully droll imagery. Literary references, which usually are beyond my knowledge are few. Here's an example from one entitled "Influence": " I saw the doves milling around in the snow, their legs as thin as pencil leads." Yes, birds do seem extremely vulnerable in frigid weather, don't they? Here he is in "The Biography of a Cloud": " I prefer a wayside bench, ensnared by vines, to the dark aisles of a library, a place to watch them inch across the sky, caravans plying their ancient trade routes" One more example (please indulge me). This one is called "Thesaurus". Mr. Collins is expressing his displeasure to words that are conventionally paired. "I would rather see words out on their own, away from their families and the warehouse of Roget"... Delicious.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Erik

    I'm about as unqualified to comment on poetry as a person can be. I don't read a lot of it, and I find the habitual need for cracking almost any book and reading aloud from said book displayed by most poetry fans to be... perturbing at times. Nevertheless, I found Billy Collins surprisingly easy to read and enjoyable. His poems were refreshingly free of the pretentiousness I (admittedly in my ignorance) ordinarily associate with poetry in general. While I'll never be a fan of poetry, Collins ma I'm about as unqualified to comment on poetry as a person can be. I don't read a lot of it, and I find the habitual need for cracking almost any book and reading aloud from said book displayed by most poetry fans to be... perturbing at times. Nevertheless, I found Billy Collins surprisingly easy to read and enjoyable. His poems were refreshingly free of the pretentiousness I (admittedly in my ignorance) ordinarily associate with poetry in general. While I'll never be a fan of poetry, Collins managed to open a few closed doors for me with this book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    I always read books of poetry too fast, especially if I like them. Like eating all of the candy in one sitting. And I never really loved my favorite poems at first read. So I liked this very much and need to digest before I know how I'll really feel about all of these. But I have many current favorites: "Piano Lessons," "Medium," "Workshop," "Thesaurus," "Metropolis," "Influence." And most of them show me something or take me somewhere or make me smile. I always read books of poetry too fast, especially if I like them. Like eating all of the candy in one sitting. And I never really loved my favorite poems at first read. So I liked this very much and need to digest before I know how I'll really feel about all of these. But I have many current favorites: "Piano Lessons," "Medium," "Workshop," "Thesaurus," "Metropolis," "Influence." And most of them show me something or take me somewhere or make me smile.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    .....how tired i am of reading and writing, Tired of watching all the dull, horse-drawn sentences As they plough through fields of paper, Tired of being dragged on a leash of words By an author I can never look up and see, Tired of examining the exposed spines of books, I want to be far from the shores of language, A boat without passengers, lost at sea.....

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    this book is tattered, from sitting in my bag, being dragged along all over the city, opened and reopened again, on many late evenings. i love to read his poems out loud; they roll off the tongue without any difficulty. osso buco is fantastic, but so are about 20 others inside this slim volume.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Justin

    Billy Collins writes good, solid, unashamed, every day poetry.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kendall

    One of my favorite of Collins'. Quiet, melancholic, but still fun in his way. One of my favorite of Collins'. Quiet, melancholic, but still fun in his way.

  20. 4 out of 5

    David

    I've enjoyed Collins, and his masterly, magical use of language, but had never wended my way through one of his collections. This one did not disappoint. Not every poem was perfect, of course, and there were those I preferred over others, but that's how it is with poems. Those that soared were classic Collins, a dialectic between whimsy and brooding, erudition and fleshy mischief. I read them in perhaps the optimal way: on a warm evening in Dublin, aloud, my wife of thirty years curled up next t I've enjoyed Collins, and his masterly, magical use of language, but had never wended my way through one of his collections. This one did not disappoint. Not every poem was perfect, of course, and there were those I preferred over others, but that's how it is with poems. Those that soared were classic Collins, a dialectic between whimsy and brooding, erudition and fleshy mischief. I read them in perhaps the optimal way: on a warm evening in Dublin, aloud, my wife of thirty years curled up next to me. "Oooh, that was a good one," she'd say. And so I'd read another. Lovely, lovely book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Peggy

    I enjoyed reading this book very much and making notes on the pages as Billy himself encourages as a sort of conversation with the poet. In fact, I enjoyed reading this book so much, I enrolled in Billy Collin's online Master Class. I love the way Billy draws the reader into his home or environment, how he shares with the reader so that the experiences feel immediate and intimate. I also like the way he shifts from ordinary to the universal with a kind of magnificent reverence. I enjoyed reading this book very much and making notes on the pages as Billy himself encourages as a sort of conversation with the poet. In fact, I enjoyed reading this book so much, I enrolled in Billy Collin's online Master Class. I love the way Billy draws the reader into his home or environment, how he shares with the reader so that the experiences feel immediate and intimate. I also like the way he shifts from ordinary to the universal with a kind of magnificent reverence.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jules Nymo

    You know some clouds are too simple, or confusing and they just float away, fading into nothingness? Some poems were like that. Some others were pleasant, for their clouds were still and beautiful. They stayed, letting me float close as possible, feeling the words swim on my skin. Aimless Love and The Whale Day were better ones but they were more recent meanwhile this is from 90s. Decent but less favorable poems were found.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    this was not my cup of tea, which is fine. poetry is so subjective and what’s great to one person is terrible to another. so this is a very subjective 2 stars. there were only about 4 pieces that i really liked in this collection. it was a bit too…lofty? for my taste. a lot of nature/references to other poets/middle age content. i saw one review that said this is a collection more appealing to an older audience, so that may be part of it. just not for me.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Luke Mackinnon

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Favorite poems (in no particular order): 1. Dear Reader 2. Consolation 3. Sunday Mornings with the Sensational Nightingales 4. Metropolis 5. Tuesday, June 4, 1991 6. The Art of Drowning 7. Death Beds 8. Conversion 9. The City of Tomorrow 10. Thesaurus 11. On Turning Ten 12. Keats’s Handwriting 13. Romanticism 14. Dancing Towards Bethlehem 15. Sweet Talk 16. The End of the World 17. Medium 18. Some Final Words

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alan

    Thanks once again to the Forbes Library for running the summer reading passport. One of the categories was to read a book in a genre that you do not normally read. I chose this wonderful collection of poetry to satisfy this challenge. Collins captures the essential beauty inherent in the commonplace through his accessible and lovely words.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Maybe it's because it's my first foray into the realm of poetry but I found this collection to be very special (special in the way that you value a hand made gift from a friend who knows you inside and out). Billy Collins writes in such a readily accessible way, I couldn't help but fall in love with his work. Maybe it's because it's my first foray into the realm of poetry but I found this collection to be very special (special in the way that you value a hand made gift from a friend who knows you inside and out). Billy Collins writes in such a readily accessible way, I couldn't help but fall in love with his work.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    This is the first Billy Collins poetry I've read, and I really enjoyed it. It felt like he was taking me for a walk through a museum - how he could take a single image and create a poem out of it. It often felt like a dance as well, from the silly to the serious. I enjoyed his playfulness. I hope I happen upon more of his writing. This is the first Billy Collins poetry I've read, and I really enjoyed it. It felt like he was taking me for a walk through a museum - how he could take a single image and create a poem out of it. It often felt like a dance as well, from the silly to the serious. I enjoyed his playfulness. I hope I happen upon more of his writing.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Geoff

    Billy Collins is so reliable. Again I enjoyed his word play. A number of rememberable poems. ‘Cheers’ v5, ' laziness was the mother of astronomy' ‘Thesaurus’ – ‘It could be the name of a prehistoric beast …’ ‘On Turning Ten’ – ‘Piano Lessons’ v5, ‘my left hand would rather be jingling the change ...’ A joy to read anywhere. Billy Collins is so reliable. Again I enjoyed his word play. A number of rememberable poems. ‘Cheers’ v5, ' laziness was the mother of astronomy' ‘Thesaurus’ – ‘It could be the name of a prehistoric beast …’ ‘On Turning Ten’ – ‘Piano Lessons’ v5, ‘my left hand would rather be jingling the change ...’ A joy to read anywhere.

  29. 5 out of 5

    James

    I like it. Collins creates new ways of looking at life, and writing from that perspective. Some great images. Some wonderful writing. I like it, but I didn't love it. Poetry is like that. Every book is uneven and the balance only tilts within each reader's mind. It could change upon another reading. I like it. Collins creates new ways of looking at life, and writing from that perspective. Some great images. Some wonderful writing. I like it, but I didn't love it. Poetry is like that. Every book is uneven and the balance only tilts within each reader's mind. It could change upon another reading.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Reed

    Another superb collection of poems -- most of them readable and understandable. Some of them absolutely change how I think...and I will use for teaching purposes. Check out: Biography of a Cloud; Cheers; or End of the World.

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