Friday, March 20, 2009
Ballistics by Billy Collins
I went to the bookstore today -- not to buy anything, just to have a look around. I came away with my fourth copy of Mudbound, the new paperback, and I was surprised at the amber cover. I also got another novel and a collection of humorous travel stories.
Billy Collins' poetry makes me look at the ordinary, the every day, and see symmetrical beauty in the simple things of everyday life. I sailed through this new volume -- twice already -- and I am not the least bit disappointed.
His simple language, clever phrases, and delightful, humorous, and thought-provoking images give me more pleasure than any poetry I have ever read.
I needed this pick-me-up, because I finished teaching King Lear in class today, and the students were bored. I know they didn't read it. They could not see the power of the language, the depth of the characters, the intense fractured relationships.
They would declare the poems too simple and Hillary Jordan's Mudbound too long. They would miss the power of the language, the descriptions, the intense fractured society of Jim Crow Mississippi in 1945. They would be the poorer for it.
But I have another Billy Collins on my shelf, and I can take him and his words for a voyage to a wonderful place -- simple, quiet, reflective. Or I can hunker down with Laura, and Hap, and Ronsel on that mudbound farm in the Mississippi delta anytime I want.
Billy Collins has done it again. I am only going to tease you with a few stanzas from the first poem in the book, "August in Paris." The poet pauses to look over the shoulder of a sidewalk painter and wonders,
"But where are you, reader,
who have not paused in your walk
to look over my shoulder
to see what I am jotting in this notebook?
Alone in this city,
I sometimes wonder what you look like,
if you are wearing a flannel shirt
or a wraparound blue skirt held together with a pin.
But every time I turn around
you have fled through a crease in the air
to a quiet room where the shutters are closed
against the heat of the afternoon,
where there is only the sound of your breathing
and every so often, the tuning of a page" (3).
Now go get your own, because I am looking over Billy's shoulder, seeing the memories of my trips to Paris, stopping to watch a mime, a street performer, or a painter on a folding chair, delicately daubing paint on a small canvas. 5 stars.