If you don't count Jewel, then Billy Collins just may be the most popular poet in America. In June, Collins was appointed to the post of U.S. Poet Laureate, and this month he celebrates the release of his seventh poetry collection, Sailing Alone Around the Room, which includes almost 100 poems, 20 of them new.

The work follows the success of his previous offering, Picnic, Lightning, which has sold some 40,000 copies bestseller status for poetry. Collins' broad popular appeal is often attributed to the accessibility of his distinctive tone, described by one critic as a casual, blue-jeans kinda style. In his new work, he disarms the reader by writing about himself: how much he used to enjoy cigarettes, what kind of house he lives in. He uses clear language, routinely incorporating humor even as he shows marked insight. In fact, the poet who usually finishes a poem in one sitting describes humor as a door into the serious. Collins also calls his poetry a form of travel writing and likes to question life from a different perspective, as he does in Walking Across the Atlantic. But for now I try to imagine what this must look like to the fish below, the bottoms of my feet appearing, disappearing. Collins will probably be doing a bit more traveling now that he has a three-book, six-figure deal with Random House, an unheard of offer for a literary poet. The lover of jazz and good whiskey is a professor of English at Lehman College and lives in Somers, New York, with his wife, Diane, an architect.


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