Monday’s Verse 2-25-08


Billy Collins has been called many things. Easy. Pretty. Playful. Glib. Sensitive. Funny but cloying. But you know my first wife was called all those things, too, and we got on pretty well. So I give the former Poet Laureate the benefit of the doubt. And it should be said–I’ve taught the man, and seen the man talk, and he speaks well to beginning poetry students. Not an insignificant thing.

Recently though I came across this new one that struck me as one of his most accomplished pieces. Collins is perfect for our forum because he does lyric poetry and very little else. He tends to talk about the real world but not in that nature poet kind of way. He eschews big moments, big technique, and big words. There’s a lot of “peace” in his poems, providing for many people what they actually seek from poetry. And every once in a while there’s a koan-esque element to a poem that provides a neat wrapping for his theme, without robbing it of its mystery. Never has he accomplished that feat as gracefully as he does here, I submit. Underneath all this IS a big idea about history and time, and Collins craftily does use traditional techniques to push his ideas forward. Examples? -ed.


When I finally arrive there—
and it will take many days and nights—
I would like to believe others will be waiting
and might even want to know how it was.

So I will reminisce about a particular sky
or a woman in a white bathrobe
or the time I visited a narrow strait
where a famous naval battle had taken place.

Then I will spread out on a table
a large map of my world
and explain to the people of the future
in their pale garments what it was like—

how mountains rose between the valleys
and this was called geography,
how boats loaded with cargo plied the rivers
and this was known as commerce,

how the people from this pink area
crossed over into this light-green area
and set fires and killed whoever they found
and this was called history—

and they will listen, mild-eyed and silent,
as more of them arrive to join the circle
like ripples moving toward,
not away from, a stone tossed into a pond.


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