I know nothing about poetry. A bad experience in my first-year World Literature class sent me running screaming from the English Department. This doesn't mean I don't like poetry, just that I know little about it, or how to find good poetry.
But when I read s.penkevich's great review
of Sailing Alone Around the Room, the poems he posted as part of that
caught my attention right away, and I ordered the book from the library.
fell in love with it. Billy Collins writes poetry that is accessible
but not facile. It is frequently funny and just as frequently made me
think. It occasionally made me cry.
Collins is a master of
examining the particular in such depth that it becomes the universal. He
focuses on moments, real moments, right now, and yet makes them
something more. Again and again, he would capture sensations, thoughts
in such warm, clear prose, in such a way that they were more than just
what he was describing.
This is not ascetic or spiritual poetry.
(Osso Buco was one of my favourite poems, in which he addresses this
head on.) This is poetry clothed in the material, not shying away weight
and warmth. But it is the material world that melds with whatever is
just beyond our vision.
One verse from Osso Buco (okay, maybe two):
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,
and I can only close my eyes and listen
to the drums of woe throbbing in the distance
and the sound of my wife's laughter
on the telephone in the next room....
are so many poems on writing that I kept grabbing my husband and
reading them to him, knowing that he'd appreciate the Workshop poem, and
others. And I loved those. But the others, the ones that pierce through
somehow through the veil to be show the immanence in transcendence,
those were the ones that crept inside me and nestled there.
want to give you so many examples! About how wonderful poems like
Questions About Angels and Tuesday, June 4, 1991 and Snow and a dozen
more are. But there was one poem that I came back to again, and again,
and again. It's too long to type out in full, but I'll give you the
first verse, and assure you that if you go to find the rest, it's just
It's called Directions:
You know the brick path in back of the house,
the one you see from the kitchen window,
the one that bends around the far end of the garden
where all the yellow primroses are?
And you know how if you leave the path
and walk up into the woods you come
to a heap of rocks, probably pushed
down during the horrors of the Ice Age,
and a grove of tall hemlocks, dark green now
against the light-brown fallen leaves?
And farther on, you know
the small footbridge with the broken railing
and if you go beyond that you arrive
at the bottom of that sheep's head hill?
Well, if you start climbing, and you
might have to grab hold of a sapling
when the going gets steep,
you will eventually come to a long stone
ridge with a border of pine trees
which is as high as you can go
and a good enough place to stop.
Collins is the social historian of poetry, finding meaning in the
everyday, in the mundane, and making it full of wonder but never
I have to take the book back to the library now, and
that hurts. Almost literally. I want to keep it here, in my hands,
where I can keep leafing back through it and find the poems that moved
me the first time and read them again and see what new things I find.
This is one I will, without a doubt, have to own.