Book Review- Poetry 180: A Turning Back To Poetry (a collection of poems chosen by Billy Collins

Introduction to Poetry

By Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem   
and hold it up to the light   
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem   
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room   
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski   
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope   
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose   
to find out what it really means.
I chose this book because I needed to read some poetry for my book reviews. As soon as I started to read the introduction, I was immediately captivated by Billy Collins’ writing. He explained to me what he hoped to accomplish with this book and he showed to me how poetry was getting away from this generation. And just like *that*, I was sucked into the abyss of reading.

I chose this poem because it really stood out to me as something many people in school could relate to. I also read the poems: Selecting A Reader by Ted Kooser, Not Bad, Dad, Not Bad by Jan Heller Levi, Singing Back The World by Dorianne Laux, The Pink Car by Mark Halliday, Acting by Suzanne Cleary, The Cord by Leanne O’Sullivan, and the rest of the poetry in this book of 180 poems. 🙂

This poem is about figuring out what a poem means. How do you figure out what a poem means? You “…hold it up to the light like a color slide.” You should “…walk inside the poem’s room…” Always “…waterski across the surface of the poem…” But never “…tie the poem to the chair…and torture the confession out of it…”

Collins is explaining how he thinks poetry should be learned/taught. He wants the reader to understand the poem, really feel it. Sometimes we get lost trying to find the answer that we forget the meaning of the poem in our hearts. We just want to write our essay about it and get a good grade; but what is the use of the poem if the reader is going to “…torture the confession out of it…”?  As students, we should care about the writing given to us and understand that these are someone’s feelings pouring onto a sheet of paper.

In his introduction, Collins explains how obscure poetry is written to protect writers’ so they don’t have to feel the “embarrassment” of everyone knowing their exact thoughts or feelings, and how poetry that clearly states something, leaves the author open to judgement, and open to the meanness that people can have.

I’m going to choose the character of the Poem. The Poem is someone’s feelings, and the Poem is trying to explain something. You have to be gentle with him because he’s too fragile to accept you torturing the confession out of him. I would love to meet him, because I would want to waterski across his surface.

I would definitely recommend this book to you; especially if you don’t read poetry, because it’s a great introduction to the world of poetry. I also really like the style of poetry Billy Collins chose. I would give this book, as a whole, an 8.75/10.

This poem is like nothing I have ever seen or read because its meaning is so raw, so clear and so concise. Most of the poems I have read have very hidden meanings. I like puzzling over a good poem, but it’s also interesting to read poetry where the meaning is uncovered. I have read many poetry books so I guess that in a sense the whole book is like all of those other poetry books.

I think the theme of this story is getting more people to read poetry. In Collins’ introduction, he kept touching upon his opinion that “kids these days” don’t read poetry anymore. I think that poetry has a role in many cultures, and I would hate to loose touch with it. I think that the poem is trying to tell readers to poke poems, to be curious, and to never try to brutally “learn” the meaning of the poetry, because it destroys the poem and the meaning itself. Again: as students, we should delve into the poem and enjoy it, and really feel it, these are someone’s words.


Questions Answered:


  • 1. Why did you choose this book?
  • 2. Explain the plot of the book, or if it is a non-fiction book, what topics are covered.
  • 3. Describe one of the characters in the book. Would you want to meet this character? Why or why not?
  • 4. What is your opinion of the book? Would you recommend it? Why or why not?
  • 5. Explain how this book is similar to another book, film, story, or article that you have read or seen. What connections or comparisons can you make?
  • 6. What do you think the main idea or theme of this story is? What is the author trying to tell you about life or our world with this book? 


Thanks for reading! 🙂 Please check out some of my other posts to get good reading suggestions. Feel free to comment below!


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