— Billy Collins
— Billy Collins
— Billy Collins
Feeling a bit nostalgic tonight. You can criticize Facebook for many things, but birthday wishes from former students via Facebook actually have an impact on me.
I was reminded of “Schoolsville” by Billy Collins. I do feel like the mayor sometimes (of Ronksville and Schoolsville) where the population does age but never really graduates. I know my earliest students are only 7 years younger than me, but when they were 15 and I was 22, we were a world apart. Now, not so much.
Glancing over my shoulder at the past,
I realize the number of students I have taught
is enough to populate a small town.
I can see it nestled in a paper landscape,
chalk dust flurrying down in winter,
nights dark as a blackboard.
The population ages but never graduates.
On hot afternoons they sweat the final in the park
and when it’s cold they shiver around stoves
reading disorganized essays out loud.
A bell rings on the hour and everybody zigzags
into the streets with their books.
I forgot all their last names first and their
first names last in alphabetical order.
But the boy who always had his hand up
is an alderman and owns the haberdashery.
The girl who signed her papers in lipstick
leans against the drugstore, smoking,
brushing her hair like a machine.
Their grades are sewn into their clothes
like references to Hawthorne.
The A’s stroll along with other A’s.
The D’s honk whenever they pass another D.
All the creative-writing students recline
on the courthouse lawn and play the lute.
Wherever they go, they form a big circle.
Needless to say, I am the mayor.
I live in the white colonial at Maple and Main.
I rarely leave the house. The car deflates
in the driveway. Vines twirl around the porch swing.
Once in a while a student knocks on the door
with a term paper fifteen years late
or a question about Yeats or double-spacing.
And sometimes one will appear in a windowpane
to watch me lecturing the wallpaper,
quizzing the chandelier, reprimanding the air.
from Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems
a poem for his mom. and moms. and sons.
"The Lanyard" by Billy Collins
Keillor, who announced a “retirement” from doing A Prairie Home Companion, will spend the summer busy doing APHC shows, including a run of outdoor shows, a 30-day bus tour and a two-week cruise.
Billy’s newest collection, Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems will be released in October.
Billy has been a favorite and frequently featured poet on the Almanac site for many years.
When a student tells you they “can’t learn a poem by heart,” you can show them this 3-year-old reciting “Litany” by Billy Collins.
Happy National Poetry Month!
You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine…
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 that 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’m 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.
~ Billy Collins
In his poem “The Trouble With Poetry”, Billy Collins points out several things that trouble him about poetry. Collins is usually not totally serious and always somewhat serious about things.
The trouble with poetry, I realized
as I walked along a beach one night —
cold Florida sand under my bare feet,
a show of stars in the sky —
the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank,
more baby rabbits
hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.
And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world,
but we keep on writing the poems. When will it end? Maybe not until
…there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks.
Like good little students.
And later in the poem, Billy repays with a poetic nod a debt that goes back to high school for an image (perhaps several images) he stole from Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
And along with that, the longing to steal,
to break into the poems of others
with a flashlight and a ski mask.
And what an unmerry band of thieves we are,
cut-purses, common shoplifters,
I thought to myself
as a cold wave swirled around my feet
and the lighthouse moved its megaphone over the sea,
which is an image I stole directly
from Lawrence Ferlinghetti —
to be perfectly honest for a moment —
the bicycling poet of San Francisco
little amusement park of a book
I carried in a side pocket of my uniform
up and down the treacherous halls of high school.
Pay it forward, poets.
It’s appropriate that Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac will have Billy Collins as its voice starting in June.
Billy - who has been featured on the Almanac many times and been on Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion program - will be filling in for Garrison for several months (maybe longer).
So, you will hear Billy reading the almanac and poem each day on The Writer’s Almanac on NPR. Billy will selecting the poems, so if you get the almanac poems in the daily email version of the Almanac, that’s Billy’s choice.
Billy’s newest book of poems will be Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems which is due out in October. It combines fifty new poems with selections from his four previous books
The birds are in their trees,
the toast is in the toaster,
and the poets are at their windows.
They are at their windows
in every section of the tangerine of earth-
the Chinese poets looking up at the moon,
the American poets gazing out
at the pink and blue ribbons of sunrise.
The clerks are at their desks,
the miners are down in their mines,
and the poets are looking out their windows
maybe with a cigarette, a cup of tea,
and maybe a flannel shirt or bathrobe is involved.
The proofreaders are playing the ping-pong
game of proofreading,
glancing back and forth from page to page,
the chefs are dicing celery and potatoes,
and the poets are at their windows
because it is their job for which
they are paid nothing every Friday afternoon.
Which window it hardly seems to matter
though many have a favorite,
for there is always something to see-
a bird grasping a thin branch,
the headlights of a taxi rounding a corner,
those two boys in wool caps angling across the street.
The fishermen bob in their boats,
the linemen climb their round poles,
the barbers wait by their mirrors and chairs,
and the poets continue to stare
at the cracked birdbath or a limb knocked down by the wind.
By now, it should go without saying
that what the oven is to the baker
and the berry-stained blouse to the dry cleaner,
so the window is to the poet.
before the invention of the window,
the poets would have had to put on a jacket
and a winter hat to go outside
or remain indoors with only a wall to stare at.
And when I say a wall,
I do not mean a wall with striped wallpaper
and a sketch of a cow in a frame.
I mean a cold wall of fieldstones,
the wall of the medieval sonnet,
the original woman’s heart of stone,
the stone caught in the throat of her poet-lover.
A sentence starts out like a lone traveler
heading into a blizzard at midnight,
tilting into the wind, one arm shielding his face,
the tails of his thin coat flapping behind him.
There are easier ways of making sense,
the connoisseurship of gesture, for example.
You hold a girl’s face in your hands like a vase.
Poetry Pairing matches Billy Collins’s “Winter Syntax” with an audio slideshow by Keith Mulvihill in which a reporter, photographer and mountaineer together navigate the snowy Tuckerman Ravine Trail along the Presidential Range in New Hampshire.