Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Birthday to Billy Collins

That's not today's Poem Prompt! Although if you feel inspired to write a poem with that title, then please go ahead.

But today is Billy Collins' birthday, as announced on The Writer's Almanac. Follow the link (it's the 22nd March entry in the archive if you look it up after today) or read the text below. My suggestion for your own poem follows.

Today is the birthday of poet Billy Collins, born in New York in 1941. Collins is both a critically acclaimed and popular poet, a unique combination in the world of modern poetry. Collins began writing poems at age 12. He devoured all the poetry he read, especially the contemporary poems in Poetry magazine. In an interview, Collins explained, "I remember reading a poem by Thom Gunn about Elvis Presley, and that was a real mindblower because I didn't know you could write poems about Elvis Presley. I thought there was poetry — what you read in class — and then when you left class there was Elvis. I didn't see them together until I read that poem."

Collins began selling his poems to Rolling Stone for $35 a pop in the 1970s. He married Diane Olbright in 1977 and published his first book of poems, Pokerface, that year, but it wasn't until the publication of Questions About Angels in 1991 that he began drawing critical attention. His other major poetry collections are The Apple that Astonished Paris (1988), The Art of Drowning (1995), Picnic, Lightning (1998), Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems (2001), Nine Horses: Poems (2002), and The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems (2005).

Collins' style is light, humorous, and fond of extended metaphor. He uses mundane situations as diving boards into the larger philosophical questions of life. His poem "Forgetfulness" starts this way:

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Collins said, "Usually I try to create a hospitable tone at the beginning of a poem. Stepping from the title to the first lines is like stepping into a canoe. A lot of things can go wrong."

Any my challenge today is to write a poem using The Collins Approach: use a mundane situation as a diving board into the larger philosophical questions of life.

Looking forward to reading your work.


Clare Dawes said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lynne Rees said...

Hi Clare - you made it! Though the poem seems to have multiplied itself into quintuplets! Don't worry - I'll see what I can do to put it right. Check in again another time. Thanks for posting.

Lynne x

Clare Dawes said...


As I stand here
watching the washing revolve
inside the drum,
Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue playing
on the radio,
sunshine alternating with snow
outside the window,
blue with white
light with dark;
an accidental trim of cream slip
spins by entrapped
in a grey tracksuit leg
and I wonder if this is how life
is going to be
from now until that endless
but the Gershwin beat seeps
into my bloodstream
like an ice-cold jet
exhilarating as it mixes
with warm bodily fluids;
outside rogue primroses spring
from the grey-green slush of uncut grass
and I start to dance
and round again.

Lynne Rees said...

Hi again, Clare, and here it is in its own starring role. Great.

Lynne x

Martin Cordrey said...

Taking off Billy Collins clothes

Firstly, it’s the only way
I’d get too touch this great man.

Secondly there’ll be no butler
to great me at his door.

There’ll be no handshake either
as we’re not equals.
Today I am his servant.

I’ll ease the worn jacket off his shoulders,
like an uncle, with respectful diligence.
On my knees before him I’ll remove each brown shoe
odd sock; Jesus had no problem washing fisherman’s feet,
so with averted eyes I’ll leave my ego in the porch on an umbrella stand.

What is to follow is embarrassingly intimate;
unclasping the buckle on his belt, freeing buttons held firmly
by his shirt, an act a western man is not supposed to do to another male. When it comes to underwear poetry comes into its own over prose;
I’ll describe fingers and thumbs on elastic,
palms of my hands on fleshy hips

then, we will have moved on, him standing naked before me –
overweight, receding hair, bow legged. I will be left wondering
how a male of his age can write with such delicacy and empathy,
as if he’d found a pair of white lace gloves
skipped after a sad looking girl
who moments before believed she’d never again see
this last gift from her father.

Lynne Rees said...

Hi Martin - good to see you here and thanks for posting. I love the way you've 'entered' this poem.

Linda White said...


Thinking of the planet, I took my string bag
to the supermarket. I bought
a bag of sugar, a box of tea
and a joint of meat.
I put them in my string bag.

And as I walked along the street,
the corner of the box of tea
poked a hole in the bag of sugar.
The sugar got all over the meat
and the blood from the meat
got all over the sugar
which started to drizzle out of the holes
of the string bag, leaving a crunchy trail
zig zaggy on the pavement

I heard a shout and turned to see
a man had slipped on the bloody sugar
and fallen over in the street.
Someone from the supermarket
ran after me to say the man
had hurt himself, wanted compensation
and by the way, did I have receipt
for the bag of sugar, the tea and meat
as I didn�t have a plastic bag
to show I�d paid
but only a string one?

Mary Rose said...

A fit of The Blues

He sweeps the kitchen floor clean
of surface dust from shining tiles,
a daily routine he feels must be observed.
His Will is signed, duly witnessed and filed,
ensuring after his death
no-one will sweat over the detritus of his life,
neatly disposed of to be recycled
in future generations
while Death itself is shrouded,
not fit for dinner party conversation,
whispered only
feather-dusted lightly.

The door bell rings, guests wipe their feet.
He hands round wine, wipes up the spillages.
Finger prints are everywhere.
Leave the Ciff in the cupboard,
don’t clean the door handles, taps,
leave the muddled wardrobes
for younger hands to clear .
The Minister’s a good man, means well,
no need to upset him with your lack of faith.

He lights a wood fire, a rarity these days
kept for visitors. It means more work,
household chores he hates.
In the cold light of morning he sweeps
the ashes, cleans the stone hearth,
carries the pan outside, sprinkles them on the garden
watches the wind blow them into eternity.
He goes indoors to the welcoming warmth
of central heating and ponders -
ice blue, powder blue, navy blue, royal blue, cyan, sky blue.

Mary Rose