Friday, August 12, 2016

A Tale of Two Billys

If there is anything people are less interested in than poetry, it's probably poetry about poetry. (The alliteration in the previous sentence is -- wait for it -- palpable.) Nevertheless, this post contains five poems about poetry by two poets, both named Billy, who were born four days apart 75 years ago. One is famous and one is not famous at all except in a very small circle of bloggers. At the end of the post their identities will be revealed.

1. The Trouble with Poetry

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,

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.


2. Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.


3. The Thing About His Poetry Is

The thing about his poetry is
it just lies there, flat as the proverbial
pancake, it doesn’t lift off the page
like a rocket bound for some distant
world, it doesn’t make your brain want to
soar into the blue. The herons are

never flying in his poetry and no stars
are ever mentioned; he wouldn’t recognize
a constellation if one hit him square
in the face. Your heart with rapture
never fills, there are no fields of
daffodils with which it can dance, in fact

dancing itself is pretty much
frowned upon in his economy,
it’s all business with him, cut and dried.
If his poetry were the financial section
of the newspaper there would always be
a bear market without the slightest hint

of hope, and in spite of all this
the public can’t get enough of him,
his books are all best sellers and
he’s making money hand over fist
even though the thing about his poetry is
it just lies there, flat as the proverbial

pancake.


4. Poem, Untitled

The page is blank, like my life.
All sorts of subjects flit through my mind
On the way to somewhere else
But not one settles down, makes itself
Comfortable, takes root, or starts to grow
Upward toward the light that arches
High above, beckoning all things to
Itself, not a single one.

The page is empty, like my brain.
I want to write a poem
But nothing comes to mind,
Only a formless maelstrom,
Swirling like one of the
Hundred million galaxies
Out there in the cosmos,
Moving toward the light.


..................................5. The Writer

....................With words alone, he paints
....................from the palette of his mind,
.........................mixing,
.........................blending,
.........................combining
.........................hues and tints
....................until he sees the exact shade
....................he wants.

....................With words alone, she chips away
....................rough edges of meaning,
.........................chiseling,
.........................hewing,
.........................gouging
..............................the solid rock
....................until the long-sought shape
....................emerges.

....................With words alone, she pins and drapes
....................original ideas
....................over the naked manikin page,
.........................tucking in a bit of material
.....................................................................................here,
....................snipping off
....................a dangling thread
there,
....................dropping thoughts
....................as easily as hemlines.

....................With words alone, he composes
....................irresistible music,
.........................charming,
.........................seducing the ear,
.........................searching for a particular chord,
....................the one right sound his words must make
....................for echoes
.........................to linger.


Notes:
(1) Billy Collins*, from The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems, Random House, 2007.
(2) Billy Collins*, from The Apple that Astonished Paris, University of Arkansas Press, 1996.
(3) Billy Ray Barnwell**, from Chapter 33 of Billy Ray Barnwell Here blog.
(4) Billy Ray Barnwell**, from Chapter 33 of Billy Ray Barnwell Here blog.
(5) Billy Ray Barnwell**, from Chapter 33 of Billy Ray Barnwell Here blog.

*William James Collins, born March 22, 1941, poet laureate of the United States, 2001-2003.

**nom de plume of blogger Robert Henry Brague, born March 18, 1941. These three poems were not written in the style of Billy Collins. At the time I composed them, several years ago, I had never read anything by him.

I suppose a case could be made that by juxtaposing three of my poems with two by Mr. Collins I have reached new heights in insolence, impudence, and arrogance, not to mention downright chutzpah.

5 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

Someone (Rumi?) said that poetry is the language of the heart. Which I won't argue about. I am glad however that my heart is multi-lingual.

Emma Springfield said...

Actually I was certain that poems number 1 and 4 were written by the same person. I wonder if many great poets were born around that time.

Jinksy said...

All those poems resonate with areas of my mind which have struggled for years to let loose words that are beating at the doors of consciousness!
The hose beating we were expected to do in school, never appealed, for one poem can mean a million things, according to the mood of the reader - let alone the author. Keep pouring those words onto the page, sez I!

Yorkshire Pudding said...

An enjoyable post. I am sorry that I took so long to get round to reading it and considering the merits of the five poems included. My personal favourite was the last one - "The Writer". The positioning of "here" and "there" was both clever and effective. In the past I have also written poems about poetry - sometimes comparing the craft of poetry writing to moulding clay and blank pieces of paper to bed sheets or a virgin landscape upon which no human tracks have yet been trodden.

P.S. I don't think "Billy" is an encouraging name for a poet. William would be more fitting. It has more gravitas. "Billy" sounds like a guy who works at a funfair or a fellow who flips burgers in McDonalds...
Words sizzled on the hotplate
They could hardly wait
To make it
Into this poem.
I dressed them in green
And mayonnaise cream
Then served them
To unwary
Customers...
The simpler the better.

All Consuming said...

All exceedingly fine poems and I do mean that. I love some of Billy Collins pieces, and Billy Ray Barnwell can clearly hold his own along side the great man. *nods a lot*