Thursday, November 10, 2005

Billy Collins, continued

Let's tie up some loose ends.

For the first part of the Billy Collins post, read here first.

Billy Collins. Great Poet. Yet, despite this opinion, he is scoffed at by a lot of the literary snobs and "academic" critics.

Case in point, and perhaps a subject for a later post, the literary critic William Logan, who is a hoot to read, at times, has a new book out, excerpted here. Logan has high standards for poetry and his chief bugbear is the dearth of poetry being published that is, in his words, bad. Including a lot of award-winning and anthologized poetry. I think Collins has met or would meet Logan's blistering criticism.

Why? Well, look at "Litany" from yesterday's post. It's an easy poem to read. It's whimsical. It probably doesn't have the legs to represent the age a century from now. The critic wants poems to mean something and effectively and structurally touch on lasting universal themes. Take a gander at Logan's essay, if you dare. It's, well, criticism, and although not as dry as others', does take some effort to absorb.

Back to Collins, here is my recap of the reading:

Very little of Billy Collins' work is not amusing. He's a funny, affable guy. He was also late.

Ok, only 7 minutes late, but someday, when I do a reading at Barnes & Noble, I'll be on time.

He read mostly from his new book The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems.

He started with "You, Reader" then read a bunch of unpublished "new poems". They were "Brightly Colored Boats Upturned on the Banks of the Charles," "Ballistics," which was based on the famous Harold Edgerton photograph of a bullet passing through a book, "August," "January in Paris," which spun off the Paul Valery quote "Poems are never completed, they are only abandoned," then he read "Monday," "The Trouble with Poetry," and "Litany" (published here yesterday).

"Litany" brought down the house. He then stuck to the current book for the rest of the evening, reading "The Lodger," "On Not Finding You at Home," "The Lanyard," "The Order of the Day," "Flock," "Constellations," "Carry," "Genius" and ending with "Revenant."

He also mentioned earlier that he once won $25 for writing a haiku for a magazine, which he thought was the most lucrative payoff he ever received: "At 17 syllables, you do the math," he quipped. The haiku was:

Mid-winter evening
Alone at the sushi bar
Just me and this eel.
Then he did some Q&A, nothing spectacular. One thing I jotted down was "95% of revision should be eliminating, paring."

Next came the signing. I was front row so I was third in line, and I was fully loaded. I've talked about my Best American Poetry collection, here is a pretty picture of it:

I've seen Collins before, so I didn't bring everything, but I did have him inscribe a copy of the new book and a Poetry in Motion subway poster from several years back:


The fox you lug over your shoulder
in a dark sack
has cut a hole with a knife
and escaped.

The sudden lightness makes you think
you are stronger
as you walk back to your small cottage
through a forest that covers the world.

He also signed my Best American Poetry volumes from 1993, 1998, 1999, 2003, and my two extra copies from 1992. Also, my paperback copy of The KGB Bar Book of Poems.

A nice event with plenty of signatures.


Anonymous said...

I randomly picked up his collection The Trouble With Poetry in a small bookstore at the coast this weekend. I only had the time to glance quickly over it and I read the first piece in the book: "You, Reader." And, personally, I found it to be one of the most interesting and beautifully written poems I have read for quite some time.

Collins fully understands and utilizes a style which I have been trying to practice, having found it very attractive in appearance and sound. I would like to have the words of this poem to post on my blog, but I don't have time to go to the library any time soon and find it. Any way you could email it to me? I would appreciate it very much. Thank you, and I enjoyed reading your post.

Affectionately Yours,

Anonymous said...

Dear Pigeon.
If you don't have time for the library, maybe you're doing something wrong.
Take the long walk to the library and daydream along the way.