Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Poet Billy Collins

The proofreaders are playing the ping-pong
game of proofreading,
glancing back and forth from page to page,
the chefs are dicing celery and potatoes,
and the poets are at their windows
because it is their job for which
they are paid nothing every Friday afternoon. (14-20)
-- "Monday" by Billy Collins, The Trouble with Poetry 
I have been a fan of the work of American poet Billy Collins (1941-) since I saw him read during Writer's Week at Fremd High School in 2001. I think his poems are funny and smart and share unique observations about everyday life. Many times when I read his poems I feel as though time slows down because he depicts moments and scenes so well. Collins was named U.S. Poet Laureate in 2001 and 2002. You can find his books of poetry in the stacks under 811.54 COL. I picked a few of my favorite poems to share:

Picnic, Lightning (1998)
The hilarious "I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey's Version of 'Three Blind Mice'" questions the origination of the mice's blindness and other particulars of the old nursery rhyme: "And how, in their tiny darkness, / could they possibly have run after a farmer's wife / or anyone else's wife for that matter?" (13-15).

I love reading "Aristotle" because of the imagery Collins uses to describe the beginning, middle, and end. The poem is divided into three stanzas and in each stanza Collins simply describes scenes or events associated with one of the three points in time. In the beginning "the profile of an animal is being smeared / on the wall of a cave, / and you have not yet learned to crawl" (16-18). In the middle "... the aria rises to a pitch, / a song of betrayal, salted with revenge" (41-42). And at the end we watch "the long nose of the photographed horse / touching the white electronic line" (55-56). I really recommend that you pick up a copy of Picnic, Lightning to read "Aristotle" in its entirety!

Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems (2001)
This collection includes poems from The Apple That Astonished Paris (1988), Questions About Angels (1991), The Art of Drowning (1995), and Picnic, Lightning (1998), in addition to new poems.

"Nostalgia," from Questions About Angels, uses humor to depict how people often wish they could return to days of the past: "Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet / marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags / of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone" (8-10). The narrator also favorably remembers the 1340s, 1790s, and "the period between 1815 and 1821" (21). I am guilty of having this infatuation with nostalgia as well; sometimes it is hard to just live in the moment.

Check out more poetry by Billy Collins:
Nine Horses (2002)
The Trouble with Poetry: And Other Poems (2005)