The Trouble With Poetry and other poems

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Saturday, September 16, 2006
by Billy Collins #27

I don't know how I came to get this book from the library. Maybe I read an interview with him online? Maybe somebody said "hey, that Billy Collins... you should check him out"? Who knows. It's been so long now I can't quite remember, but I do know it was after I determined I should be reading more poetry. This is all to say that I was aware of him, (poet laureate 2001-2003 , founder of the useful and wonderful Poetry 180) but hadn't really read him. (I am frightfully unread, it's true. I just pick and poke my way through the stacks and shelves and reviews looking for the next obsessive rabbit hole to fall into. It works pretty well from a personal satisfaction standpoint, but not so well for having a really solid foundation in things that everyone has read. So, if the question is "have you ever read XYZ?" my answer will probably be either "no" or "not yet," or maybe the classic deer in the headlights stare while I try to figure out if I've even heard of it.)

Anyway, back to Billy Collins, who does not deserve to be stuck in a blog post with a bunch of self-obsessed literary excuse-making, but that's the nature of blogging (and also the nature of me writing after midnight!), so here we are.

A word that comes up a lot when reading about Collins is "accessible," which is certainly true, but... talk about damning with faint praise. He should receive bold praise! He IS accessible, he DOES use "simple, understandable language" (thank you USA Today for that succinct bit of criticism), but he is also wickedly smart and insightful with a dry, sly sense of humor. Which isn't to say that it's all hahaha the poet laughs at you, mortal. He's able to combine all those threads (the wise-ass thread, the beloved thread, angry thread, etc.) with sadness and vulnerability in a way that is so human and relatable. And good.

I recommend listening to either (or both!) of his CDs. He sounds, I found, just like I thought he should, although before I heard him I had no idea how that would be. (It will all make sense after you hear him, trust me.)

Here's another quote (from the back of the book -- I'm really doing my homework on this one): "It is difficult not to be charmed by Collins, and that in itself is a remarkable literary accomplishment." The New York Review of Books

It was hard to pick which poem to put in this post -- there are others I liked better, but they were long and it's late, so I chose this one (which I also quite like):

On Not Finding You at Home

Usually you appear at the front door
when you hear my steps on the gravel,
but today the door was closed,
not a wisp of pale smoke from the chimney.

I peered into a window
but there was nothing but a table with a comb,
some yellow flowers in a glass of water
and dark shadows in the corners of the room.

I stood for a while under the big tree
and listened to the wind and the birds,
your wind and your birds,
your dark green woods beyond the clearing.

This is not what it is like to be you,
I realized as a few of your magnificent clouds
flew over the rooftop.
It is just me thinking about being you.

And before I headed back down the hill,
I walked in a circle around your house,
making an invisible line
which you would have to cross before dark.
2 comments on "The Trouble With Poetry and other poems"
  1. That last bit of the poem grabbed me--all the rest rock-solid reality, then the unexpected fantasy line wapped me.

  2. Me too! that was exactly the part that made me sit up and pay attention. When I re-read it, the beginning was a slightly new color.

    This poem makes me think of the blogosphere, in an oblique kind of way.


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