Review | Ballistics by Billy Collins


Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? To celebrate the beginning of National Poetry Month, and the letter B for the A to Z Challenge, I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins, Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. The New York Times has referred to him as ‘the most popular poet in America,’ and he is one of the few poets to have received a six-figure sum for a three-book deal.

In Ballistics: Poems, Collins hits it out of the ballpark with his collection of poems. He is witty and sardonic; he takes the mundane and transforms it into extraordinary. After reading his poems, I often find myself wanting to examine the inner recesses of his brain so that I can see the world at the angle he does.

In my humble opinion, Collins is one of the great poets of our time. A few years ago, Daniel and I had the absolute pleasure of hearing him read at the Salt Lake City Library. Collins is unassumingly hilarious, though he also has his moments of profundity. If you ever get the opportunity of hearing him read, I encourage you to jump at it!

From Ballistics: Poems:

‘Baby Listening’

According to the guest information directory,
baby listening is a service offered by this seaside hotel.

Baby listening—not a baby who happens to be listening,
as I thought when I first checked in.

Leave the receiver off the hook,
the directory advises,
and your infant can be monitored by the staff,

though the staff, the entry continues,
cannot be held responsible for the well-being
of the baby in question.

Fair enough, someone to listen to the baby.

But the phrase did suggest a baby who is listening,
lying there in the room next to mine
listening to my pen scratching against the page,

or a more advanced baby who has crawled
down the hallway of the hotel
and is pressing its tiny, curious ear against my door.

Lucky for some of us,
poetry is a place where both are true at once,
where meaning only one thing at a time spells

Poetry wants to have the baby who is listening at my
as well as the baby who is being listened to,
quietly breathing by the nearby telephone.

And it also wants the baby
who is making sounds of distress
into the curved receiver lying in the crib

while the girl at reception has just stepped out
to have a smoke with her boyfriend
in the dark by the great sway and wash of the North

Poetry wants that baby, too,
even a little more than it wants the others.

Collins poetry is wonderful. I daresay even people who don’t do cartwheels over poetry will like him. In addition to his own collections of poetry, he has compiled some wonderful anthologies of poems. You can find out more about him here and here, and read some more of his poems here.


Overall Rating: 5 of 5 stars false

Attack of the Books is participating in the A to Z Challenge. Today we’re on the letter “B’ and featuring Ballistics: Poems by Billy Collins.

  • Bob Milne

    Thanks for stopping by – happy ‘B’ day.

    Can’t say I’m much for poetry, but that is an awesomely striking book cover.

    • Hey, there’s no accounting for taste, but thanks for stopping by.

  • I am both awed and dismayed by the poem, but I’m usually not either so I would say it’s a hit. Thanks for the introduction!

    • That’s what poetry is for, right? To move and shake us?

  • I need to read more of his poetry! That was somewhat horrifying, but such fun to roll around in. Great B post. 🙂

    • Collins has quite the quirky way of seeing the world, there’s no doubt about that. I hope you’ll enjoy his work as you read more of it.

  • Bob Scotney

    Thanks for introducing me to a new poet, I shall look for more of his work.

    • I hope you like what you find. Collins is in a league all his own.

  • Wow, that was an interesting read. Poetry wants baby and all. I was fascinated by what I read and am grateful to you, for introducing me to Billy Collins. I can tell that I will enjoy reading more. Thank you for visiting my blog during the A to Z challenge.

    • I hope you like what you find, Melissa. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Great review.Being from the UK, I’m not familiar with Collins. But I think you’ve convinced me to check out his work. I liked the ending of the poem-fascinating. And I didn’t realise it was national poetry month, thanks for the heads up!

  • What a neat poem! I hadn’t heard of Collins before.

    • I hope you like him after you have a chance to read more of him. He’s got a quirky humor that I enjoy.

  • Jennifer Chandler

    My husband is a huge fan of Billy Collins. I don’t read enough poetry. Perhaps I shall have to dig out his poetry books and reacquaint myself with Mr. Collins.


    • You know, I’m not always one to go looking for poetry “just because,” but I’ve never not enjoyed or found something interesting about Collins’ poems. Best of luck! I hope you like what you find.

  • Not a fan of poetry most of the time, but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Pictures can also grab attention. I checked out this post because of the bullet slicing the playing card. Awesome! Thanks for sharing.

    This post is featured in my 1st recap post. Here’s the link:

    • Thanks for featuring us, Mark.

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