I’ve gotten in conversations with several people about poetry over the past year. The common theme is that, try as we might, we just don’t “get” most poetry. That is to say, we don’t like it. Perhaps it’s more boredom than the inability to put our fingers on what is actually wrong with it.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve found some Yeats to be OK. Tennyson looked hopeful for a while, but I couldn’t get farther than the second chapter of Idylls of a King. What a snore. I have some Walt Whitman (still with dust) on my newly unpacked bookshelves. On second thought, I think it’s propping up the lamp on my desk upstairs.
One name that has come up a couple times in these conversations is Billy Collins. Supposedly this guy’s stuff is very accessible and actually quite good. Today at lunch, I had to pick-up my Rene Girard book at the library. It’s slow reading and even though I’m close to finished with it, I couldn’t renew it anymore. So I had to return it in the drive-up drop box and wait a day for it to be re-shelved, then grab it again. While I was there, I picked up Sailing Alone Around the Room, which is kind of a “best of” from Collin’s last four books along with a few new poems. I sampled several sections over lunch.
Wow. This is really good stuff! I don’t even know where to start. It’s super. I MUST post a few here over the next week or so. They are often simple, often quirky, sometimes deep, sometimes intentionally shallow. This one is called Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House:
The neighbors’ dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.
The neighbor’s dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,
and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.
When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is entreating him with his baton
while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.