Literary: September 2008 Archives

On Billy Collins (again)


I have previously expressed my disdain for the poetry of Mr. Collins--but my subsequent reading and the patina of time coupled with a decoupling from the critical establishment, both internal and external, has forced a reevaluation of the poet in light of his newest collection Ballistics.

Making a judgment as to whether Mr. Collins is a poet for the ages or another of the many who will be forgotten long before people think to remember him, is something that is far beyond my capabilities as a poet, a thinker, a would-be aesthete, one who savors great and not-so-great writing and literature. What's more, it isn't particularly useful to you who read these words. The modern world is flooded with print and other means of conveying the written word in ways that the ancient and even recent-past could not even begin to imagine. So to predict the fate of one writer in this tsunami of paper and information is foolishness.

That said, I have been too hard on Mr. Collins. I wanted Keats, Shelley, Eliot, and Yeats. And yet, Mr. Collins is Mr. Collins and must be read on that basis alone--not against these others as though there is some agreed upon instrument to measure and classify each poet. In short, I have been depriving myself of the pleasure of Mr. Collins's company while I waited for the poet who would come along and knock my socks off.

I have missed out on the humor, implicit and explicit, in poems such as "Tension" which uses the word "suddenly" to such great effect:

from "Tension"
Billy Collins

Suddenly, you were planting some yellow petunias
outside in the garden,
and suddenly I was in the study
looking up the word oligarchy for the thirty-seventh

When suddenly, wihtout warning,
you planted the last petunia in the flat,

It doesn't seem like much, but the poem goes on to reflect upon the "suddenness" of quotidian life and how much we ignore that everything happening happens suddenly. In the mirror of this light-hearted reflection, we suddenly see everything anew. It's as if, suddenly, the fruit of years of Buddhist practice were dished up for our delectation and delight.

In the title poem of the collection, "Ballistics" Mr. Collins regales us with a vision of a book of poetry by a rival poet. You must read the whole for the humor to come through, but here are some salient lines,

from "Ballistics"
Billy Collins

But later, as I was drifting off to sleep,
I realized that the executed book
was a recent collection of poems written

by someone of whom I was not fond
and that the bullet must have passed through
his writing with little resistance

Remind me not to get on the bad side of one who wields the pen for a living.

These delights and other similar await the reader who opens this book of Mr. Collins's poetry. As though the scales have fallen from my eyes, I find myself once again forced back through all that I have written and decided, in the cycle of perpetual reevaluation.

Perhaps it is better not to decide at all, but rather to enjoy where enjoyment is to be had and to keep silence where it is not. But then, what of reviewing? To what purpose, to effect what end? Perhaps its only purpose is to open the doors to those who have not already read and enjoyed to something they might find enjoyable and rewarding. Perhaps it is better not to spend one's time deciding what is not worthy, but instead extolling what has come to one's attention as of interest.

This does not mean we cannot carp and wail--after all, that is, at times, a goodly part of the enjoyment of a work--our conversations with it, for good or for ill. But perhaps, except for works of sheer moral recklessness, the work of a critic is better confined to outlining what exactly was enjoyable in the work at hand. And so share it with all.

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To JTH on his Birthday


A good friend for a long time, remaining loyal and patient and true through all of his dealings with me--and believe me, I gave him little reason for loyalty or patience. Happy Birthday!

from The Selected Poems of Wang Wei
Tr. David Hinton

9/9, Thinking of My Brothers East of the Mountains

Each year on this auspicious day, alone and foreign
here in a foreign place, my thoughts of you sharpen:

far away, I can almost see you reaching the summit,
dogwood berries woven into sashes, short one person.

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An Amusing Analogy

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from How to Read a Novel
John Sutherland

There was something dehumanizing about the whole population of China reading Mao's Little Red Book publicly, simultaneously, and in the same 'correct' way during the late 1960s. It was dehumanizing int he same way as are the futuristic serfs in Fritz Lang's 1927 masterpiece Metropolis, who do everything, from walking, to eating, to copulating, to sleeping, en masse. Regimented reading is a contradiction in terms. And in the case of fiction, there is something faintly unsettling about the Da Vinci phenomenon. Did those twenty-five-million-and-rising punters freely choose to read the novel? Or were they merely drifting with some bestselling tide, as helpless as literate jellyfish to choose their course?

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Literary category from September 2008.

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