Review by Library Assistant Andrea Nelson
The poems are short,
So short you can read the entire book in 40 minutes.
Laid end to end, the sentences of my book reviews
could cross the pond and return with crumpets and tea.
That won’t serve here.
Full disclosure: I’m a Billy Collins fangirl. It all started on a California beach. I remember sea lions honking and groaning rudely, as if they owned the sun and the glitter it sprinkled on the waves.
Marinated in my sunscreen, I stood witness to an extraordinary exchange of wedding vows. Legal verbiage out of the way, the bride and groom begin reciting the poem, Litany  to each other. The first line, lofty and tired, offered little inspiration. That, I soon learned, was exactly what the sly poet intended. The poem quickly twisted into masterful satire mixed with just enough relationship truth to hold everyone spellbound. The poem’s protagonist trips along for several stanzas, telling his lover exactly what she is–and is not–to him. In the end, he settles into something solid, sweet, humorous, and perfect… like a good marriage.
Since that day, I’ve devoured every line Billy Collins has written.
Not every Collins poem is satire. Like all great poets, he paints with the full spectrum of human emotion. One poem in Musical Tables haunts me. It’s about a house with windows that look out on the woods. Its owner has passed away. Its wording is simple–no sad reminiscence or forced melancholy–just the empty house looking out. Imagery like that stays with me. But I confess, I still like Collins’ satirical poems best. It takes a special kind of insomnia-induced genius to write this:
 Hotel Room
the breakfast menu,
I had no desire
to be hung
I doubt many critics would call Musical Tables the best of Billy Collins. In the postscript, Collins’ explains that he wrote the collection of short poems to experiment. Each time he picks up a new book of poetry, he flips through, finds the short ones, and reads those first. I have pocketed some of Collins’ petite poems to revisit again and again; others I have already forgotten, but all are worth reading.
If you are new to Collins’ work, I strongly recommend starting with one of his defining collections.  Nine Horses and  Sailing Alone Around the Room are both exceptional. You’ll want to spend some time with those. If you’re like me, and you’ve got a long “To Read” list, here’s the thing about Musical Tables: I took it off a shelving cart and read the first poem while walking back to the Circulation Desk. It consisted of—I kid you not— three lines about a hitchhiker who notices an ant walking in the opposite direction. Hooked, I snuck off to read the rest of the tiny, tempting little poems over lunch. It felt like sneaking into a caterer’s kitchen to eat the canopies straight off the butcher block, before they are whisked away on silver trays.
As promised in my opening attempt at mini-poetry, I’ve kept this book review brief. If I haven’t written enough to whet your appetite for Musical Tables, consider investing the (minimal) reading time for bragging rights. After all, Billy Collins is a former U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-2003), and Musical Tables is his latest work. If nothing more, reading it will expand your literary knowledge and impress your friends!
I hope you enjoy it as I did.
 Collins, Billy. “Litany.” Nine Horses, Random House, New York, 2002, p. 69-70.
 Collins, Billy. “Hotel Room.” Musical Tables, Random House, New York, 2022.
 Collins, Billy. Nine Horses, Random House, New York, 2002.
 Collins, Billy. Sailing Alone Around the Room, Random House, New York, 2001.
Find all the titles in our Collection by Billy Collins here.