January 13, 2006

Boredom [Filed under: Collins, Billy.General Discussion]

The other day, I decided to try my hand at composing a more modern piece of poetry, but the results were dismal:

A Meta-Analysis of Free Verse in Free Verse
or
Ode on Itself

Imagine
    how beautiful
    this poem could have been
    had you but written it
Yourself

I was struck today, however, when I read a review of Billy Collins’ newest book in the NYT [registration may be required]. It turns out that Collins’ book begins with a poem that starts thusly:

from The Trouble with Poetry

I wonder how you are going to feel
when you find out
that I wrote this instead of you

I wrote my piece having Billy Collins particularly in mind, though I did not mean it to be an homage or an imitation, strictly speaking. I haven’t read the rest of the Collins poem, but just looking at the first stanza, I like mine better. [Some less than friendly discussion of the NYT review may be found at MetaFilter.]

Also, I tried to compose a pwoermd today:

VISUALEYES

…but it turns out someone beat me to it.

I think I’m giving up my career ambitions in poetry. I’ll stick to law school.

October 7, 2005

Poeta Loquitur [Filed under: Collins, Billy.Frost, Robert.Thomas, Dylan]

I haven’t had a chance to listen to much yet, and what I have listened to hasn’t really inspired me to listen to much more, but I figure some of you might be interested: I found a link over at Salon to several downloadable CDs worth of Dylan Thomas reading his and others’ poetry, with introductions by Billy Collins. The article requires the visitor to have a Premium membership or a day-pass, which means essentially that you’ll have to watch an ad (requiring Flash). Small price to pay for so large a bounty. I don’t know how long the files will be available, so I suggest getting while the getting’s good. I have been told that “Track 6 on disc 5, ‘Chard Whitlow,’ was written by Henry Reed as a lampoon of T.S. Eliot. Reed won a parody contest with it in 1941.…Thomas recites it while impersonating Eliot. The poem is funny, but the audience is laughing because even they found Eliot to be ‘pompous, silly, overwrought, stilted’ and ‘affected.'”

When it rains, it pours (unless it doesn’t, as when it sprinkles or drizzles or spits or…). Here’s Robert Frost reading some of his own poetry.

July 16, 2005

Ave Atque Vale [Filed under: Collins, Billy]

Ave Atque Vale

Even though I managed to swerve around the lump
of groundhog lying on its back on the road,
he traveled with me for miles,

a quiet passenger
who passed the time looking out the window
enjoying this new view of the woods

he once hobbled around in,
sleeping all day and foraging at night,
rising sometimes to consult the wind with his snout.

Last night he must have wandered
onto the road, hoping to slip
behind the curtain of soft ferns on the other side.

I see these forms every day
and always hope the next one up ahead
is a shredded tire, a discarded brown coat,

but there they are, assuming
every imaginable pose for death’s portrait.
This one I speak of, for example,

the one who rode with me for miles,
reminded me of a small Roman citizen,
with his prosperous belly,

his faint smile,
and his one stiff forearm raised
as if he were still alive, still hailing Caesar.

When I was in Amherst with my parents, we stopped into the Jeffrey Amherst Bookstore, where my father bought all his textbooks in his college days. They were having a bit of a sale, and on the table in front of the store I found a heavily discounted copy of Billy Collins’ Nine Horses. I should not be buying books right now, as I have no room in my apartment (seriously—boxes take up most of the floor space in my room, so that I can barely maneuver (is it wrong to want to spell that with the œ ligature?)), and I don’t have a ton of cash on hand, either. Of course, I bought it. One of the first poems I opened to when I had a chance to glance through it was “Ave Atque Vale.”

(Read more…)

May 17, 2005

Forget it [Filed under: Bishop, Elizabeth.Collins, Billy]

Here are two poems on a related theme. If I have already put up the Bishop poem before, I apologize. First, Billy Collins:

Forgetfulness

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.

Now, Elizabeth Bishop:

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

March 27, 2005

Easter Egg Salad [Filed under: Admin.Collins, Billy]

Marginalia

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive —
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” —
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls “Metaphor” next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of “Irony”
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
“Absolutely,” they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
“Yes.” “Bull’s-eye.” “My man!”
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoriao
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page—
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil—
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet—
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”

For whatever reason, this reminds me of Hoke.

I can recall only one margin note I ever came across in a library book. It was in a section of Plato’s Republic dealing with what sort of poetry makes noble citizens and such claptrap. One of my predecessors had noted beside one of these proposals “then Homer becomes Herodotus”.

I don’t believe I have ever scribbled in a book I didn’t own. I have managed to mark up a few texts, but almost exclusively with asterisks, brackets, and question marks. I tried underlining with Hegel. It did not go well. I did, however, at least once manage to delve into actual notes. My copy of the Meno has “Knowledge as Easter Egg Hunt” scribbled in the margin.

Happy Easter.

Out of curiosity, what became of the ability to create new categories? It seems to me that Billy Collins could use one.