I recently read a list of recommended books that included the entry any book of poetry by Billy Collins.
Hmm, I thought. I don’t know the poems of Billy Collins.
So I immediately surfed over to Amazon and browsed through the selections by Collins, and chose a used (like new) copy of Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems.
Billy Collins is a former Poet Laureate of the United States who also served a term as Poet Laureate of the State of New York. He has written ten books of poetry. I can’t remember who wrote the article that recommended him, but I am forever in his debt.
A well-written poem can transport you to another place or time, can help you experience someone else’s emotions, can make you see a familiar object with new eyes. Collins’ poetry does all those things brilliantly.
I have to share a poem:
by Billy Collins
This morning as low clouds
skidded over the spires of the city
I found next to a bench
in a park an ivory chess piece—
the white knight as it turned out—
and in the pigeon-ruffling wind
I wondered where all the others were,
lined up somewhere
on their red and black squares,
many of them feeling uneasy
about the salt shaker
that was taking his place,
and all of them secretly longing
for the moment
when the white horse
would reappear out of nowhere
and advance toward the board
with his distinctive motion,
stepping forward, then sideways
before advancing again,
the same moves I was making him do
over and over in the sunny field of my palm.
Can’t you just hear the pigeon-ruffling wind? And I love the personification of the other chess pieces, uneasy about the substitute colleague; and the mention of the way the knight has to move. The poem delights me each time I read it.
Cleverness resides in this book, as well as mocking the way people express themselves, and serious gripes about growing old. Some of the poems don’t move me at all, but most insist I read them a second time, and a third, and then pause to ponder.
I’ve never heard of Billy Collins either, but I loved the poem you shared. Thanks for introducing me to a new poet.
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Thanks for the reminder. Billy Collins is one of my favorite poets. I’ve bought other books by him, including Aimless Love. I posted a video of Billy Collins reading his brilliantly funny poem, January in Paris, from that book on my blog. I also link to other poems and videos of him, like Introduction to Poetry, also a favorite, from The Apple that Astonished Paris. He seems to have a thing about Paris. https://theuncarvedblog.com/2015/04/26/enjoy-the-poetic-genius-and-humor-of-billy-collins-reading-his-poem-january-in-paris/.
Funny, when I read that poem, I came up with a totally different interpretation–not humorous at all. Reader’s license, I guess. I noticed he departed slightly from the printed version. The irresistible urge to improve upon it?
Thank you so much, Andrea, for pointing out that missing line in the text below the video! I checked the book and the 4th line in the 2nd stanza was missing on my blog post. He read it correctly. I added it now, thanks to you.
As for the humor, I meant his alluding to certain traditional images Americans have of the French and their habits, especially the artistic life in Paris. He ends the poem with the lover smoking a cigarette alone after lovemaking. Reminded me of old French films I’d seen.
As you say, we each have our own take on the work. I appreciate Billy Collins’ wry sense of humor! His work is so accessible. He makes it seem so simple. But it’s not easy to write like that. Did you ever listen to his interviews with Terry Gross on Fresh Air talking about what he thinks of certain types of poetry and how he writes his? Fascinating.
Here’s a good interview on PBS Newshour: Poet Billy Collins discusses humor, authenticity and ‘Aimless Love’ http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/entertainment-july-dec13-collins_10-29/