Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Billy Collins

We have become beautiful without even knowing it.

I am happy to say that I now know some of the work of U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Nick Gough turned me to The Art of Drowning, a collection whose title poem scoffs at the old notion of life-flashing-before-your-eyes. He seems to muse that there is some senseless anxiety at work—“crushing decades in the vice of your final desperate seconds.”

To me, there doesn’t seem to be anything ill-considered in Collins’ poems. He exalts the mundane, the pleasurable, the simple, and does it with a smile on his face. He pokes fun at how art seems to be a vehicle of sadness or regret or escape. He is unafraid to communicate satisfaction. After a meal of risotto and wine...

I am swaying now in the hour after dinner,
a citizen tilted back on his chair
a creature with a full stomach—
something you don’t hear much about in poetry,
that sanctuary of hunger and deprivation.
You know: the driving rain, the boots by the door,
small birds searching for berries in winter
but tonight, the lion of contentment
has placed a warm, heavy paw on my chest

Then we will slip below the surface of the night
into miles of water,drifting down and down
to the dark, soundless bottom
until the weight of dreams pulls us lower still,
below the shale and layered rock,
beneath the strata of hunger and pleasure,
into the broken bones of the earth itself,
into the marrow of the only place we know.

I love that his dreams aren’t rising us higher still over such and such…but makes the point that we are descending into someplace "below," trying to return to a sense of happiness that lies deep within us, not in some foreign country celestialized in the clouds of an unknown horizon.

There are some great poems in this book. I love “Death Beds,” “On Turning Ten,” and “Conversion.” The narrator in the latter, after listening for months to only one story, a parable of lost sheep or blighted vineyard, he says,

Then I would remove my helmet of opinions
and walk into the public streets
revealing the soft brown mushroom of my new head.

At this point he steps back from his months of study and looks at things in new ways even still. To me this arrives at an essential essence of poetry and spirituality. The open mind continually grasping for greater light, and ever willing to remove our helmets of opinion to take anew that fresh and frightening look.


tiffany said...

James (of James & DeDe) is my brother and I found your site from theirs. I have to say that I adore Billy Collins. "On Turning Ten" is one of my absolute favorites and for a period of a few months my little boy asked me to read it to him every night.

The only thing better than a Billy Collins poem is listening to Billy Collins reading one of his poems. I have a couple of his CDs and his voice adds even more character and richness to his genius words. I especially like his live reading. Mmmm good!

Les M. Blake said...


You have a very cool brother.

You also have a very cool blog.

I somehow managed to get through four years of college majoring in English without having heard of Billy Collins. I'm a big fan of the conversational style that isn't so hoity toity T.S. Eliot. He just says what he wants to say. I love the thought of your little boy asking you to read him poetry before bedtime. I'll for sure look into some Audio versions!

Nick said...

I love that Collins has no issue being poetic about lifes most satisfying moments. "the lion of contentment has placed a warm, heavy paw on my chest". Thats great material!

My moms been sick on and off for the last couple years and about a year ago I read her Collins poems while she laid in bed. The poetry is so lighthearted and relatable and in general uplifting.