Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday Favorite: I love this poem

*Seven comments before we move on...*

So a couple of years ago I heard Billy Collins was doing a reading at UC Riverside which was my neck of the woods at the time. I knew who Billy Collins was. I taught language arts and creative writing. How could I not know that he was the former U.S. poet laureate. I liked Billy Collins a lot. I thought his poetry was all right (a little too traditional for me) but I loved what he did with Poetry 180, his effort to bring poetry back into everyday life. The idea was to read a poem every morning in school and not talk about it or analyze it. Just listen to it and think about it and enjoy it. He collected some pretty cool poetry into an anthology (there are at least two now) toward that end.

So my friend Jaymee and I decided to go check it out.

Here's the thing. You know how sometimes tone doesn't really come across clearly in an email? What you read and what someone meant come across differently depending on where you inflect it and put the the emphasis? Well...

I had no idea Billy Collins was freaking hilarious. I had always read his stuff and felt there was a seriousness or somberness to it. He was no doubt a wordsmith, but I don't know...I liked the thoughtfulness. I just like a little whimsy too. Then I heard him read. And I realized 80% of what I heard as somber was actually incredibly wry. And it was hysterical.

That's how the following poems became one of my favorites. Be warned: it's not deep. But it kind of is. But it's kind of not. But I love it.

Litany
by Billy Collins

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.
However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way you are the pine-scented air.
It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.
And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.
It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.
I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley,
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.
I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I am not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow-- the wine.


P.S. If you're stumped for a comment, I welcome suggestions of poets or poems I should check out.

12 comments:

alotalot said...

What a great poem!

You should join the Poetry Friday round-up. Come to my blog to fine out who is hosting...I can't remember :) Anyway, it is a bunch of people posting poems every Friday (obviously!)

It doesn't get me many comments, but lots of visits and most importantly I have been introduced to a lot of really great poems. Try www.taylormali.com

He's awesome.

charrette said...

That was a great poem. I loved it. And I hate to admit, I was clueless about Billy Collins. So thanks for introducing me to him, and his wry wit.

I'm glad more people are commenting so you get these great posts up faster...You crack me up!

Lisa said...

LOVE it. I think he's my best friend, and hadn't even heard of him until 4 minutes ago!!

Thanks for sharing this. "You are certainly not. . ." "You're not even close to being. . ." "It might interest you to know"

That's good comedy, in my opinion.

Kenny, the huband said...

I hadn't heard of him until I met my wife.

Here's a link to the poet reading his own poetry (I tried to embed it but blogger told me 'no'...stupid blogger!)

summer girl said...

I had exactly the same response to hearing Billy read. I took his poems seriously and was surprised to hear laughter-- until I realized, "Hey, this IS funny, too." I don't think the humor takes away from his depth.

I'm so glad to know that someone else had the experience I had.

I love Billy. I cannot get enough of his poems. His new book just came out (Ballistics), and it's more poetry gold.

Alison Wonderland said...

Poetry is so interesting. And weird. I'm not usually a fan, I'm not really smart enough to get most poetry. But I do love me some Shel Silvertstein and Dr. Seuss. To me that's how poetry ought to be done.

Emily said...

Um . . . So I am TOTALLY embarrassed to admit that I have never heard of Billy Collins. Honestly, unless his name was mentioned in People magazine . . . I probably have never heard of him. I read "Phil Collins" in my head (because he would be in a trash mag) and I was like, Phil writes poetry? Like outside of his music lyrics?

Yes, I should expand my reading material.

Nancy said...

I love poetry and don't read it very often. As sad as that is, I just became aware of Billy Collins a year or two ago. He was at BYU last year, but I was working - darn.
I have liked the things I have read of his. Thanks for the Poetry 180 connection. Have you read any Mary Oliver - "Why I Wake Early" got me reading her stuff.

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

charrette said...

Okay, I'm back --

One of my all-time favorites (not humorous, though) is T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets. This was written during a spiritual awakening for him and is loaded with meaning and metaphor. At Cambridge I sneaked out of my own class and stood in the back to listen to Mr. Munby lecture on these.

There we were, touring parish churches all over the English country side, and come across this gem, which is suddenly alive with purpose and imagery.

My favorite passage is:
"You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid."

It struck me with such force that I did a piece of art about it after I got home. It hangs in our living room to this day.

Kimberly said...

Awesome poem!

I'm an e.e. cummings fan myself.

Jami said...

Here's a link to another Billy Collins poem. I posted it as a belated Mother's Day post. One of my favorites.
http://supermisc.blogspot.com/2008/06/happy-belated-mothers-day.html

Jami said...

Click my name on this comment and it should take you there. If it doesn't work, oh well, it's a cool poem anyway.