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A roundup of poetry bestsellers

Short reviews of five of the bestselling poetry books in the US.

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In a field notorious for slow sales, some of the books here – like those of Billy Collins, which have been topping poetry bestseller lists for more than a year now – have surpassed expectations. Here are the five bestselling poetry books in the US for the week of March 18, 2007, according to the Poetry Foundation.

The Trouble with Poetry, by Billy Collins, Random House, $13.95

It should come as no surprise that "The Trouble With Poetry" holds the No. 1 slot. Collins has long been the most popular contemporary poet in the United States. But readers who buy this collection may feel cheated, since the poems – which deal with poetry and aging, among other things – lack the wit and memorable phrasing that usually distinguishes Collins's work. The poems often feel flat and obvious because the imagery rarely rises above the mundane and the humor is at times self-conscious. The strongest poem is "Flock," about sheep in a pen, unaware that their skin will soon be used in a Gutenburg Bible. Readers will wish that the rest of the collection were as compelling.

Thirst, by Mary Oliver, Beacon Press, $22

In most of Mary Oliver's poems, the poet is a high priestess, helping readers appreciate the earth and its creatures. In "Thirst," her 16th book of poems, she is less priest than acolyte. For the first time, Oliver tells how she came to the Christian faith. She also gives voice to grief over the loss of her longtime partner, writing: "From the complications of loving you/ I think there is no end or return./ No answer, no coming out of it./ Which is the only way to love, isn't it?" Unlike confessional poets, though, Oliver doesn't wallow in emotion and she uses grief as a path to greater faith. Apart from a few flat spots, this work is remarkably consistent and shows a side of Oliver her readers have long waited to see.

Sailing Alone Around the Room, by Billy Collins, Random House, $13.95


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