Study Guide

Man Listening to Disc

Man Listening to Disc Introduction

It's so easy to listen to music: all we need are our ears and an iPod. And there's nothing better in the world than plugging in some earphones, or cranking up the volume on our stereo, and blasting our favorite song. If we're crying over our ex who's just dumped us, we feel better. If we're already happy, then a little bit of music will only make us happier.

Billy Collins' "Man Listening to Disc" is a poem about the simple pleasures of music. It's one of those joys we take for granted. The poem first appeared in 1999 in Atlantic Monthly and then later wound up in his 2002 book Sailing Alone Around the Room. It's called "Man Listening to Disc" because it was published in the pre-iPod stone age, when people were still listening to compact discs, or CDs. Remember those big, clunky, round things? (We know—it's hard to believe, but it's true.)

But Collins' poem isn't just about any music. It's about jazz music. Jazz, of course, is the great American musical form: it developed in America before it was exported out to the rest of the world. So the poem is an homage to jazz specifically, and some of the jazz musicians who made the form what it is.

What is Man Listening to Disc About and Why Should I Care?

Sometimes it's good to focus on the simple pleasures. Sure, it would be nice to be a millionaire and to have a big house and a fancy car. And sure, maybe we'd be happier if we were a little skinnier or a little taller, a littler prettier or a little more buff.

But Billy Collins' "Man Listening to Disc" shows us that happiness isn't about money or looks or popularity—or any of those things, really. It reminds us that we should stop pining after the things we can't have and turn instead to the simple pleasures that we can have, like music. The secret to happiness, in other words, is to seek out the simple pleasures. And don't we all need to be reminded of that from time to time?

Man Listening to Disc Resources

Websites

Collins' Site
Delve into the author's books on this website.

Collins on Facebook
Check out the poet's Facebook page, which features poetry and news about the author.

Video

Animated Poetry: "The Dead"
Check out this animation of Billy Collins' poem "The Dead."

A Three-Year-Old Recites "Litany"
A three-year-old recites Billy Collins' poem "Litany." Didn't we tell you this poet is accessible? Even a three-year-old can recite him.

Audio

Two Poems About What Dogs Think
Yup, Billy Collins reads two poems written from the perspective of dogs.

"The Lanyard"
Billy Collins reads his funny poem, "The Lanyard."

Images

Collins Himself
Here he is, chewing thoughtfully on his glasses.

Thelonious Monk
Here's Thelonious Monk, one of the musicians mentioned in "Man Listening to Disc," looking super cool on the piano.

Articles and Interviews

"A Brisk Walk: An Interview with Billy Collins"
Billy Collins talks to Guernica about "accessible poetry," his childhood, and getting his readers to fall in love with him.

"Billy Collins on Life, Death and Poetry"
In this interview in The Washington Post, Collins talks about leadership and what he's taken from his mom and dad.

Books

Sailing Alone Around the Room
Collins' best-selling collection of poetry (who knew poets could be best-sellers?), this includes the poem "Man Listening to Disc."

Horoscopes for the Dead
This is an award-winning collection of poetry from America's most popular poet.

Movies & TV

"The Art of Drowning"
This is a short animated film based on Billy Collins' poem "The Art of Drowning."