I adore Billy Collins. The way one adores a grandfather.
And I marvel at his poetry. The way one marvels at an enormous flock of birds swooping and diving in semi-unison beneath the pallid light of dusk before moving onto more serious, captivating matters. Like blogging.
To be sure, there is some you can criticize Collins about. His instantly recognizable, simple, understandable language, for example, can be regarded as safe. Or easy.
And as we all learned in grade school, poetry should be hard. And boring. Very, very boring.
T.S. Eliot Collins is not. Thank god.
And with Ballistics, Collins’ latest collection of poems, there is plenty of poetic warmth for those eager to snuggle up with the same familiar cardigan of a Collins poem.
He is still supremely playful and witty. His mastery of language is like that of a grandfather’s fluency with the rules of pinochle. And like a grandfather who tells the same jokes, Collins’ poetry is simultaneously predictable and enjoyable because it is completely inevitable while still surprising.
In the poem “January in Paris,” Collins takes Paul Valery’s quote, “Poems are never completed – they are only abandoned,” in order to imagine seducing a poem and “completing” her.
There are arrestingly sublime images and magnificent turns of phrase. From “Le Chien:”
For my part, I had mixed my drinks,
trading in the tulip of wine
for the sharp nettles of whiskey.
Tulip of wine and sharp nettles of whiskey. Quite nice, that. Quite nice.
But within Ballistics, there is some edge. And Collins seems to have grown a bit more ornery. A bit more Bukowski.
He muses on the various colloquialisms for drugs in “High.” He grumpily observes the inundation of his contemporary’s poems in The Poems of Others.” In the title poem, Collins openly refers to “a recent collection of poems written by someone of whom I was not fond.”
In “The Effort,” Collins encourages us to “join me in flicking a few pebbles in the direction of teachers who are fond of asking the question: What is the poet trying to say?” He even refers to the “intolerable poetry of my compatriots.” And he begins “Liu Yung” with “This poet of the Sung dynasty is so miserable.”
We are all fans of Collins the Poet. Now let us praise Collins the Curmudgeon.
It’s so hard being a dead writer these days.
The receding economy pities no one. And that includes great authors who have long since passed, leaving them without their earthen haunts to haunt.
But there is hope:
Several “young people” who broke into “poet” Robert Frost’s home for a “beer party” are being required to take classes in his poetry as part of their punishment.
There is a simple solution in all of this: Throw beer parties at Twain’s and Wharton’s estates as fund raisers!!!
Invite “young people.” Serve “beer.” Have “poetry” readings. Tell Oprah. Inform Bill Clinton. Get Jerry Lewis involved. Call it an art show. Organize workshops. Encourage people to dress up like the writers and have prizes for best look-a-like.
With that solved, what would have the punishment been had these aforementioned “young people” had a “beer party” in the old home of Charles Bukowski?
Certainly no judge nor lawyer in their right mind would reinforce such behavior by further teaching it.
This should serve as a lesson to all “beer”-seeking “young people.” Only throw “beer parties” at the homes of those writers notorious for their carousing.
For reference, see Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide to Great American Writers.
Why do they kill the poets?
Despite the Current Administration’s occasionally obnoxiously jingoistic xenophobic nationalistic drivel, can you ever imagine Them getting so desperate Here that they hurt the likes of a John Ashberry? Or sweet little Billy Collins? Or Louise Gluck?
So it is with wide-eyed horror that I gasp in revulsion at the cowardice of Burma for arresting Saw Wai, a poet. Wai recently published a poem in a magazine in which the first words of each line read: “General Than Shwe is crazy with power.”
Never has an acrostic been so dangerous.
At least in America our poets go unnoticed and ignored like they’re supposed to!
Now this is a bandwagon I am more than eager to hop on and fervently encourage: the naming of a poet laureate to organizations that are otherwise not in need of a poet laureate, have never had a poet laureate, and are not obviously even related to poetry.
MTVu has selected John Ashberry to be its first Poet Laureate. And bravo to MTV for picking a REAL poet. Not a pop singer, not a rapper, not a folksy-artsy dude with long hair and a guitar who seems to say semi-cogent phrases that blow your mind when you’re on mushrooms, not even a “slam” poet or one of those weird, angry spoken word types, but a REAL, LIVE, GOOD poet.
And this selecting of poets laureate is a trend I would like to see continued. There’s so much possibility! Our country has one. States have them. Cities have them. Do counties? Do corporations? Do professional sports teams?
Then I hereby officially announce my campaign to become the poet laureate for the Dallas Cowboys. Or the University of Texas at Austin Longhorn football team. Or the Dallas Mavericks. Ah hell, I’ll settle for the Cleveland Browns. Or a farm team. I’m willing to start at the depths of arena football and work my way up. I’m patient, a team player, and flexible. Reading my haikus at the halftime shows of high school football games while the drill team is sauntering off and the band is warming up will provide me plenty of time to hone my craft.
Does Google or Microsoft have a poet laureate? They should. Me.
Why do I want to be a poet laureate so bad? It’s the last acceptable position for an artist that garners any respect and adulation without demanding any specific duties. Beyond writing brilliant poems of course.
This guy is now our Poet Laureate:
What? You missed the changeover?
What? You missed that too?
Well, I rather like poetry. It’s an audacious and absurd undertaking. One to be admired, respected, and treated with the utmost caution; like the wild beast it is.
The New York Times calls this new Poet Laureate, Charles Simic, “a surrealist with a dark view…a writer who juxtaposes dark imagery with ironic humor.” And that’s probably true. Who am I to argue with The Times?
But he also has an entirely cute and wonderful poem called “Watermelons” that goes something like this:
On the fruit stand.
We eat the smile
And spit out the teeth.
And Mr. Simic has written that, “Awe is my religion, and mystery is its church.”
So I’m liking him already, but Simic has yet to decide what specifically to do with his tenure. But let’s hope it has a lot to do with surrealism, dark imagery, ironic humor, and awe-as-religion.
I am of Polish heritage. And I like poetry. But unfortunately my knowledge of said ethnicity extends no further than the pirogis we made at Christmas and Wislawa Szymborska. Which are both pretty damn good.
But now there is Zbigniew Herbert. Who is evidently Good.
But more importantly, he looks Cool.