Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Poetry by Billy Collins

Billy Collins 2006Image via Wikipedia

I am constantly coming across poets new to me, who are wonderfully clever and creative and (just as importantly) write in a style that I find a treat to read and which brings a smile to my face.  Billy Collins is one such poet.

I was introduced to him last Sunday on CBC's Radio 1's Sunday Morning Edition,  when the propriety of the Billy Collins poem "Taking off Emily Dickinson's Clothes" was being discussed.  I will leave the appropriateness of that idea for you to decide, but do go for a listen to it being recited on You Tube, if you enjoy ever so slightly erotic poems and are not aghast at the subject matter.  After I heard the poem recited I was hooked on Billy Collins.

According to Wiki:
Billy Collins (born William James Collins March 22, 1941) is an American poet, appointed as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. [1] He is a Distinguished Professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York and is the Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Winter Park Institute, Florida. Collins was recognized as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library (1992) and selected as the New York State Poet for 2004-2006.
The Wiki source also indicates that Collins is a good friend of actor, Bill Murray.  I think a lot of Bill Murray but that is another story (my favourite movie being Groundhog Day) and I sat up and took notice that they are acquainted.  As a consequence of the brief read of a few of Collins' poems and I know that I will enjoy getting to know Collins work a lot better. His poems are quite clever and a bit quirky. It is all I can do to hold off running to Amazon to send off an order.  Nice to know that isn't necessary because a lot of his work is available online for free.

After a brief journey through You Tube land and various recitations, I chose to share a few which I particularly liked.  The two You Tubes are from 11 animated poems read by Billy Collins. The rest of the animated poems are worth going to see if you like the two below.

by Billy Collins
Forgetfulness, the title of this first poem, is something that I have been thinking about lately.   I am taking my Mom for an appointment at a Geriatric Clinic this week to have her cognitive functioning assessed - and the  prime symptom of her issue is a failing memory.  I myself am getting to the age where it is quite acceptable that I might have small memory lapses and I can calmly proclaim a "Senior's Moment".  As much as it might frustrate and be a bit worrisome that I seem to forget some details now that I would never have forgotten a decade ago - that goes with the territory I guess.  In my Mom's case it is more severe and I have started to wonder how long she will be capable to manage on her own in the years ahead.

This poem is whimsical and while ominous in its conclusion, I like it's slightly humorous treatment of the theme.  

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.


The next poem I found to be very interesting in its concept and how it illustrates that the foundation of our tomorrow is the sum of all our yesterdays.

by Billy Collins

Each one is a gift, no doubt,
mysteriously placed in your waking hand
or set upon your forehead
moments before you open your eyes.
Today begins cold and bright,
the ground heavy with snow
and the thick masonry of ice,
the sun glinting off the turrets of clouds.
Through the calm eye of the window
everything is in its place
but so precariously
this day might be resting somehow
on the one before it,
all the days of the past stacked high
like the impossible tower of dishes
entertainers used to build on stage.
No wonder you find yourself
perched on the top of a tall ladder
hoping to add one more.
Just another Wednesday
you whisper,
then holding your breath,
place this cup on yesterday's saucer
without the slightest clink.

The Dead

The last poem I wanted to share from his collection is "The Dead". I loved the poem and the animation which illustrates it.

If you like Billy Collins poetry, I would really recommend you zip on over to You Tube and /or the site with 11 Animated Poems Written by Billy Collins and the experience some more of his poems. He has been particularly kind in providing creative commons license to his work so there are a great deal of his poems available with/without animation illustration.
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