Musical Tables


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NATIONAL BESTSELLER • From the former United States Poet Laureate and New York Times bestselling author of Aimless Love, a collection of more than 125 small poems, all of them new, and each a thought or observation compressed to its emotional essence

“Whenever I pick up a new book of poems, I flip through the pages looking for small ones. Just as I might have trust in an abstract painter more if I knew he or she could draw a credible chicken, I have faith in poets who can go short.”—Billy Collins

You can spot a Billy Collins poem immediately. The amiable voice, the light touch, the sudden turn at the end. He "puts the ‘fun’  back in profundity,” says poet Alice Fulton. In his own words, his poems tend to “begin in Kansas and end in Oz.”

Now “America’s favorite poet” (The Wall Street Journal) has found a new form for his unique poetic style: the small poem. Here Collins writes about his trademark themes of nature, animals, poetry, mortality, absurdity, and love—all in a handful of lines. Neither haiku nor limerick, the small poem pushes to an extreme poetry’s famed power to condense emotional and conceptual meaning. Inspired by the small poetry of writers as diverse as William Carlos Williams, W.S. Merwin, Kay Ryan, and Charles Simic, and written with Collins’s recognizable wit and wisdom, the poems of Musical Tables show one of our greatest poets channeling his unique voice into a new phase of his exceptional career.

3:00 AM

Only my hand
is asleep,
but it’s a start.

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Musical Tables

Musical Tables

No one knew what to do
when the music stopped,
plus, the big tables were always in the way.

But soon it became the new game
in spite of its pointlessness,
or was that the reason for its popular appeal? 


Hitchhiking alone,
I notice an ant
walking in the opposite direction.


At school,
always seen together,
capital and small,
parent and child

holding hands,
about to cross
the street
in Alphabet City.

The Naked Eye

There was no eye lid
to cover the naked eye

so she covered herself
with some scenery,

a meadow she liked to look at
when the other eye wasn’t looking.

Argument from Design

Six petals on each iris,
every other one
with a small yellow streak,

which resembles a tiny vase,
holding a few flowers of its own.

New Calendar

The poem of next year—
every week a line,
every month a stanza,

and a tiny sun
rising and setting
in every numbered square.

- About the author -

Billy Collins is the author of twelve collections of poetry including The Rain in Portugal, Aimless Love, Horoscopes for the Dead, Ballistics, The Trouble with Poetry, Nine Horses, Sailing Alone Around the Room, Questions About Angels, The Art of Drowning, and Picnic, Lightning. He is also the editor of Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day, and Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds. A former Distinguished Professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York, Collins served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003 and as New York State Poet from 2004 to 2006. In 2016 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Florida with his wife Suzannah.

More from Billy Collins

Musical Tables



Musical Tables

— Published by Random House —