Saturday, May 3, 2008

You, Reader

For Christmas last year, someone bought me Billy Collins' newest book, The Trouble with Poetry. Unfortunately, it got lost in a pile of books, tools, bills, and other such dross that I completely forgot that I had it. Last night, after countless "debates" with my wife about the pile of junk in my office, I finally decided to attempt to tackle the beast and clean up (just a bit). Well low and behold, what do I find? The Trouble with Poetry by Billy Collins! It was like finding a crisp new twenty dollar bill blowing in the wind on a city street.

The only thing that I knew about the book was that it was not very well received by the masses. The reviews on Amazon are uncharacteristically negative and a quick Google search of the book's title will result in a lot of negative comments from dissatisfied poetry enthusiasts. But to me, it was definitely worth the risk of disappointment because-- hey, this is Billy Collins.

This is the first poem in the book:

by Billy Collins

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

that it was I who got up early
to sit in the kitchen
and mention with a pen

the rain-soaked windows,
the ivy wallpaper,
and the goldfish circling in its bowl.

Go ahead and turn aside,
bit your lip and tear out the page,
but, listen—it was just a matter of time

before one of us happened
to notice the unlit candles
and the clock humming on the wall.

Plus, nothing happened that morning—
a song on the radio,
a car whistling along the road outside—

and I was only thinking
about the shakers of salt and pepper
that were standing side by side on a place mat.

I wondered if they had become friends
after all these years
or if they were still strangers to one another

like you and I
who manage to be known and unknown
to each other at the same time—

me at this table with a bowl of pears,
you leaning in a doorway somewhere
near some blue hydrangeas, reading this.

This is the only poem in the book that I've read so far, and I'm more than happy with it. It reminds me so much of my students and their simple, innocent arrogance. Whenever I teach a poet like William Carlos Williams or E.E. Cummings, they always say, "I could have written this," or "What's the big deal? This doesn't say anything poetic." They see the world and the poems quite literally, forgetting to take into account the simple beauty of observation. I am sometimes able to convince them than those poets are better than they (the students) seem to realize, that the poems contain more than a simple statement about a bowl of plums or a man who sells balloons.

In this poem, Collins answers the all-too-common argument of "I could have written that." His simple reply: I wrote it first, sorry. This will not go down as one of his most lasting or artistic pieces, but to me, this poem is absolutely perfect.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

luscious the little
goat-footed baloonman
whistles far and