Literature: September 2008 Archives

I can't tell you how liberating it is to be able to say that you have been wrong.

I've been wrong before, and I'll be wrong again, and it's wonderful to be shown how wrong I am because I have the new delight of finding what I have so long been missing. I wish more people relished the experience of being wrong and the liberating joy of seeing the light. Of course, it can be a bit like opening your eyes first thing in the morning to the shock of the overhead lights being turned on. But after that initial shock and pain has faded, how delightful to be able to see.

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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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About this Archive

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

Literature: August 2008 is the previous archive.

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