Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Billy Collins

now playing: Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - "ease down the road" ($8 at Graywhale and so so good in my ears)

So, I picked up Billy Collins' latest recently, a collection called "The Trouble with Poetry". I was so excited to get a new offering from him (his first in three years), that I didn't balk too much at the $20+ price. I perused and read and slept with it while I was travelling on the airplane to and from Chicago. And, for the first time ever, I was let down by him.

Sure, it has its moments, the poem I posted previously being one of them. But, largely, it seems he's just puttering around talking about his craft, exploring how he approaches it and why it's generally a pain to be a poet. He sips his tea, he muses on the love of his life, he talks of his now-dead dog and he's pretty afraid of passing on. Other than that, he doesn't seem to be doing much of anything. He is, however, pretty lost in his thoughts. This collection strikes me as the musings of a lonely man who observes more than he engages. Feels a little selfish.

These are hard words to attach to him, probably because of how much I relate to him as a poet. As a rule, his language is very simple and his pieces end up inviting those who are afraid of reading poems. It's not exactly hard to understand, yet he packs a real wallop in some well chosen lines and images: subtlety is part of his genius. Poetry about poetry, however, strikes of the same sort of pretention so readily applied to those other poets. He doesn't outright say he was the Poet Laureate of the U.S. from 2001 to 2003 or even that he's the current Poet Laureate of New York State (not unless you count the back book flap), but he may as well be.

I still like the book, but I wanted to love it. On a personal level, it makes me want to start writing poetry again. I've made the recent discovery that poetry is the way I most choose to communicate my thoughts. I'm even pompous enough to believe I've learned to do it well. Give me a few stanzas, some rhyme and meter and I'm all over it. That said, when I look at my most recent journal of poems (only my eighth volume in about 14 years), I'm a little embarrassed to see I've only written three poems in the past three months (one for each). This is how I share my thoughts, how I remember, how I express ... and, yet, I've more or less come to a standstill. It's a huge change from the "poem a day" era of my college youth.

I noticed a difference between Mr. Collins and myself. I'm still doing and he comes across life as he's already done. I think the proof is in the pudding. It doesn't make me better than him, of course ... we just tend to come at life in different ways. And, as long as I am able to DO, I best keep at it. I'll throw in the observations as well and attempt to share life through my filters. It's weird to explain this to those who don't write, but it's a very real need I have neglected. I'm ashamed, but I can start again. I'd rather not lose my gift, so it's back to flexing that muscle. I'm completely set to swallow down some prunes and get regular all over again.

Collins says it best when he writes "the trouble with poetry is / that it encourages the writing of more poetry." I resemble that nugget of truth and, should I ever get the chance, I'll shake his hand and thank him for it one day.


bestsariah said...

Also, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Corruption, Dainon. CORRUPTION!

ewesa said...

I have to tell you this after reading this post- right before I moved to seattle from salt lake, I went into barnes and noble. I was feeling... sad? maybe that's not the best description, but anyway, sad about leaving my friends. there was a display in barnes and noble about buying books for people, their names were written on little pieces of paper and stuck around the store. so I chose one from a teenage boy who wanted a poetry book, and I bought a billy collins book of poetry for him. it was sort of my own personal goodbye to you, and I bet he liked the book.