Friday, February 29, 2008

"Poets aren't quite like other people..."

Today BYU managed to get former Poet Laureate (and one of my favorite modern day poets. The other top one is Taylor Mali, but he is not the topic of this post, now is he?) Billy Collins to come and read poetry. I can die happy.

It was spectacular to sit in an auditorium, not too far back, and listen to a man whose works have been on AP tests. Think about that for a while. What was wonderful was the atmosphere in the room. As he spoke, I could feel myself (along with the hundred or so other people there) falling for his laid-back charm, being mesmerized by this unassuming man in a blue sweater.

When he stood up, he got straight to the point: poetry. He read and explained things he wrote in a soft voice. Thanks to a cold he apologized for, it was a little nasally but no less enthralling. True, at times it reminded me of Ben Stein's monotone, but the closer I listened the more I began to appreciate the subtleties of his recital. This droll little man with the droopy eyes was a mass of gentle humor. As he got further along the program, I saw his spirit. Here was a man who lived his life in a constant state of bored amusement. That sounds like a paradox, but that's what it was. You could tell he spent his life looking outwards, looking out his window as his poem "Monday" implies, but not judging what he saw. He liked the world, he wrote about it, and it brought him joy.

What was really beautiful was observing what happened when his "poem" voice, the voice that added a gentle emphasis and halting rhythm to his words, extended to his everyday voice, the one he used to talk about where the inspiration for such and such came from. When that happened, the most idle of comments became poetry, and so beautiful that you would have given anything at that moment to see life as he saw it.

After he had closed with the recitation of "On Turning Ten", preceded by the statement "If you are majoring in English, you are majoring in Death. So death is our thing" (poking fun of the abundance of mortality poems in the literary canon), I ran to get him to sign his newest book for me. I waited in a line that was more like a crowded corral, but it was worth it just to have something I can hold to remember the way I felt, sitting in an uncomfortable seat and wanting to be able to write like that when I grow up.

Anyway, here is a sample of his poetry, and one of my favorites, though it is really too hard to choose. It's the title poem from his latest book, The Trouble With Poetry.

The Trouble With Poetry

The trouble with poetry, I realized
as I walked along the 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,

and there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks.

Poetry fills me with joy
and I rise like a feather in the wind.
Poetry fills me with sorrow
and I sink like a chain flung from a bridge.

But mostly poetry fills me
with the urge to write poetry,
to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame
to appear at the tip of my pencil.

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
whose little amusement park of a book
i carried in a side pocket of my uniform
up and down the treacherous halls of high school.

1 comment:

Ashley said...

I am so so so so jealous.
I love that poem.
I wish I could have been there.
Your writing rocked in this entry.
You have been inspired and love love love it.