”I walk through the house reciting it and leave its letters falling through the air of every room.”
Whenever I read Billy Collins’ poems, I want to hand them out to people nearby, as if they are small gifts, from him to all of us. They so perfectly exist within their words that they seem almost self-formed, and Billy Collins is merely their handler who has unwrapped them or undressed them and showed us their essence.
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart"
No events are unnoticed, no detail is irrelevant, no thought is imponderable.
He is a master, training his apprentices:
”Introduction To Poetry
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.”
And long after the classes, he sees the residues of his pupils in Schoolsville: ”Their grades are sewn into their clothes
Like references to Hawthorne.
The A’s stroll along with other A’s.
The D’s honk whenever they pass another D.
All the creative-writing students recline
On the courthouse lawn and play the lute.
Wherever they go, they form a big circle.”
Some poems are humorous, some poignant, many are deeply reflective, and all are precisely observant
I feel refreshed, grounded, included when reading his poems.
I like his world, and I like how he reminds us that this is our world too.
A couple of great reviews here, Spenk's
, capture the joy of it nicely.