180 Poems edited by Billy Collins, Random House, 2005, ISBN: 978-0812972962
180 Poems is the second anthology of poetry compiled by Billy Collins for his poem-a-day program for high schools. It follows the same format as the first successful volume, Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry. Collins selects works from contemporary poets such as Sharon Olds, Greg Delanty, Don Paterson, Lucia Perillo, and W.S. Merwin. The poems range in length, theme, and tone.
180 Poems is a great way to introduce teenagers to contemporary poetry. Collins is an accessible poet for teens, and his anthology of other poets’ work demonstrates that he is a good reader for teens as well. Many of the poems here are funny (such as “Denial” by David Lehman) or deal with issues and themes relevant to young people. “First Hour” by Sharon Olds, for example, can be read as the story of a birth, but can also be seen as a speaker’s yearning for independence.
First Hour by Sharon Olds
That hour, I was most myself. I had shrugged
my mother slowly off, I lay there
taking my first breaths, as if
the air of the room was blowing me
like a bubble. All I had to do
was go out along the line of my gaze and back,
out and back, on gravity’s silk, the
pressure of the air a caress, smelling on my
self her creamy blood. The air
was softly touching my skin and tongue,
entering me and drawing forth the little
sighs I did not know as mine.
I was not afraid. I lay in the quiet
and looked, and did the wordless thought,
my mind was getting its oxygen
direct, the rich mix by mouth.
I hated no one. I gazed and gazed,
and everything was interesting, I was
free, not yet in love, I did not
belong to anyone, I had drunk
no milk, yet—no one had
my heart. I was not very human. I did not
know there was anyone else. I lay
like a god, for an hour, then they came for me,
and took me to my mother.
Whether you are new to poetry or someone who can recite verse from memory, you will find something (many things, probably) to enjoy in this second volume of poetry compiled by Poet Laureate Billy Collins.
Information about the author
From Billy Collin’s biography on Wikipedia, we learn that “Billy Collins (born William James Collins March 22, 1941) is an American poet, appointed as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. He is a Distinguished Professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York and is the Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Winter Park Institute, Florida. Collins was recognized as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library (1992) and selected as the New York State Poet for 2004-2006.”
Reading Level / Interest Age
Grade 9 and up
Some language and mature themes.
Why did I include this title?
This is the most popular volume of poetry checked out in the library by far. Students find the poems in this volume highly accessible and engaging. I only wish more of Billy Collins’ own poetry was included here.