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Posts Tagged ‘Billy Collins’

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.

Billy Collins was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. This may have been one of our country’s most fragile times, when more people sought peace from poetry. And he is a poet who gets us, and last night Bob and I had the distinct pleasure to listen to him read some of his poems at Salon 615. Everyone of a certain age has picked up a book in rapt anticipation, only to find a few pages down the line that it’s something we’ve read before. I admit it, and Collins makes it bearable in his poem “Forgetfulness.”

Like that moment when he realized he was older than Cheerios, at the age of 70, and so wrote a poem about it. He scatters serious sonnets in among his readings, so last night’s audience gasped and laughed in unison. Because poetry is “…a megaphone.” Because he loves to make up new words, like “azaleate” – which loosely translated means we’ve arrived at a place just before, or after, it’s signature event. Oh, it’s too bad you’ll be missing the peak leaf season here in Vermont, let’s say. Or:

Bob and I azaleated the lavendar blossoming in Provence this year. 

Collins writes about cats and dogs from their point of view. And he even writes about Tennessee Fainting goats! This type of goat freezes and keels over whenever it is startled or feels panic. It’s something I may be catching here in loud and noisy Nashville 🙂

What brought me nearly to tears was Bob’s reaction; he didn’t fidget or head for the bathroom. He actually loved listening to Collins, we poked and prodded each other at yet another small truth that bounced between the two of us. It was like going to Jacob’s Pillow when we were young and discovering that he enjoyed the ballet almost as much as I did!

Then, towards the end of the evening, he turned to that ultimate question all couples must grapple with, “Who will go first?” The universal hope that “…you will bury me.” But is that really true love, to want to go first and save yourself from grieving. Bob has told me so often that due to his genetics he will most likely go first, and I almost believe him.

But what if I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow? A very real possibility in this busy city. He would still buy peanut butter and jelly, he would still drive like someone from NJ. Maybe he wouldn’t search for a beach house, or maybe he would?

Collins recommended a book, one that had inspired him in his youth, by a philosopher named Gaston Bachelard, “The Poetics of Space.” And I remembered the Bride showing us her Public Policy building at Duke, the light pouring in through modern-Gothic arches. And just last year, pointing out her son’s little hidey-hole inside his closet in their new home.

In the first and last days of life, it is the cosmos of the home that takes on the full weight of human habitation, as retreat and space of belonging. Bachelard’s greatest work remains a compelling reflection on the enduring human need to find psychological refuge in familiar places and spaces, though its author admitted that poets and story-tellers got there first. 

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/book-of-a-lifetime-the-poetics-of-space-by-gaston-bachelard-1673212.html

Here he is reading from his book, “The Rain in Portugal.”

IMG_1558

 

 

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My Ivy Farms Book Club dined on delicious crab soup, salad, and yummy bread. The scene through Virginia’s (yes, our host has the same name as our state) window was Arcadian, rolling pastures dotted with hay bales. Poetry was read aloud with alacrity; local poets, dead poets and poet laureates. And while driving home I realized I’d forgotten my sweater…

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.
Billy Collins

Of course I read Billy Collins, not the “Forgetfulness” poem, although someone else did, but one about Birds, and another about a House. I must have left my sweater where my spleen used to be. This was Virginia’s group email:

A lovely sweater was found on the back of a kitchen chair.

Does it belong to you?

If read properly, does this sound a little like Emily Dickinson?

This is how the poetry readings affected me.

I feel so sorry for Charles Wright.

But Billy, you were the Hero of the Night.

And so I replied:

At the last minute I threw it over my shoulder

Never knowing, always needing

To cover or contain my errant arms

Wide hips and sunkissed neck from light

To warm me in the chill of an air-conditoned night

To forget on the back of your chair

Late Summer Herbs

Late Summer Herbs

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I am going to sit on a rock near some water

The Ivy Farms Book Club has asked its members to bring a poem to share at the next meeting. I chose to bring a poem by Billy Collins, our ex-Poet Laureate, who will be a keynote speaker at the KilKenny Arts Festival in Ireland this year. http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/billy-collins-when-i-start-a-poem-i-assume-the-indifference-of-readers-1.1891332?page=1

“When I start a poem, I assume the indifference of readers,” he says. “That there might even be a touch of hostility. There is a line from a Patrick Kavanagh poem that really resonates. It goes: ‘Tomorrow’s Wednesday. Who cares?’ Well, the reader can’t be expected to be interested in your life, the life of a stranger. The job of the poet is to seduce the reader, to make sure they are interested, to make something happen for them that is unexpected.”

When I write I rarely think about the reader, about cajoling her or him to like me or the content. I admit as a journalist I sometimes did, but today I write to make sense of things, I write to flex a muscle in my mind. I figure if the reader doesn’t like what I’m saying, he’ll stop reading! I hope this doesn’t seem cruel dear reader, but I’d rather not presume anything as I begin to write. That’s why I won’t check email or social media when I sit at my desk – later for that. I like to leave that morning space open for the muse of inspiration which will sometimes take hold of my fingers and take me in another direction.

Still I understand poetry may need a bit of a nudge. I like Mr Collins simply because he abhors obscurity or obfuscation in his verse. If he happens to be chopping parsley while listening or thinking about something else, it will find its way into his poem. And he is not writing for someone in an ivory tower, he feels the need to “seduce” us, the general public, with his words. And who doesn’t like to be seduced?

and I am going to stop talking

Last night Bob and I were laying out on the deck in total darkness, we were moon bathing. We wanted to see some shooting stars because it was time for the Perseid meteor shower. It was a perfectly clear night; we stopped talking and watched the enormity of the sky and its brilliant stars. On cue, stars began streaming from one spot in the solar system to another, in the constellation Leo, lying northeast of our ridgeline. I began to understand VanGogh. images

Then Bob said, “Do you hear that?” It was the sawing, symphonic sound of tree frogs chittering away at the edges of our star show. And the silence was broken as he told me more about his boyhood time at Four Bridges, and how much he loved that sound in the midsummer night.

I Love the sound of your voice

like a little saxophone

telling me what I could never know

unless I dug a hole all the way down

through the core of my self 

That was a verse in Collins’ poem “Orient. The other snippets are from “A Question About Birds.”                    Everyday Moments Caught in Time  

Sitting on a Bench to Watch Geese

Sitting on a Bench to Watch Geese

 

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