Thursday, July 10, 2008

Poetry Night

Last night, Michael, Mary (you might remember her as the Big, Fat Liar a.k.a. my mother-in-law) and I went to hear the poet Billy Collins at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, CT.

The ground were beautiful and the crowd was immense - but I'm not going to bother with any of that because I want to get to the poetry.

Billy Collins
was the United States Poet Laureate from 2001-2003 and New York State's Poet Laureate from 2004- 2006. He's won a ton of prizes and published eight collections of poetry. Impressive, yes. But the really important thing - to me - is that he's funny.

I laughed so hard I almost cried. And even though it is really difficult to pick out my favorites - I have chosen two to share.

Mr. Collins gave a little intro to the poem, Tension, that I will paraphrase. He said that he was bored one day and was reading a simplistic book on fiction writing that had some basic do's and don'ts. One of the don'ts was "Never use the word "Suddenly" to create tension. If you read a lot of fiction, he went on, you will find this cropping up quite a bit - more often in bad fiction. He said one of his favorite examples went like this:

She pointed the gun at him and pulled the trigger. Suddenly, shots rang out over the countryside.

This point of writing inspired the following poem.


“Never use the word suddenly just to
create tension.”
Writing Fiction

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 time.

When suddenly, without warning,
you planted the last petunia in the flat,
and I suddenly closed the dictionary
now that I was reminded of that vile form of governance.

A moment later, we found ourselves
standing suddenly in the kitchen
where you suddenly opened a can of cat food
and I just as suddenly watched you doing that.

I observed a window of leafy activity
and, beyond that, a bird perched on the edge
of the stone birdbath
when suddenly you announced you were leaving

to pick up a few things at the market
and I stunned you by impulsively
pointing out that we were getting low on butter
and another case of wine would not be a bad idea.

Who could tell what the next moment would hold?
Another drip from the faucet?
Another little spasm of the second hand?
Would the painting of a bowl of pears continue

to hang on the wall from that nail?
Would the heavy anthologies remain on their shelves?
Would the stove hold its position?
Suddenly, it was anyone’s guess.

The sun rose ever higher.
The state capitals remained motionless on the wall map
when suddenly I found myself lying on a couch
where I closed my eyes and without any warning

began to picture the Andes, of all places,
and a path that led over the mountain to another country
with strange customs and eye-catching hats
suddenly fringed with little colorful, dangling balls.

Me again. Okay, one of my other favorites - that you must ABSOLUTELY read if you are a mother - is The Lanyard.

It was such a lovely evening and now I think I have to go buy some of Billy Collins books!


sara said...

I LOVE Billy Collins. He's one of my favorites. Deb and I went to see him at Sunken Garden MANY years ago - before the boys were even glimmer in my eye. Where was Magoo?
Boy, I'm jealous.

äiti said...

Two days in a row of reading poetry that made sense to me. Wow.

(Yesterday's poem was a Mary Oliver poem.)

I loved the "suddenly" poem. The "lanyard" one was darker. I loved it in a different way.

Julie_c said...

I don't think the Lanyard was supposed to be dark at all. When he read it, it was so funny I almost peed, Sure - the underlying theme is that mothers do so much and kids give us pieces of plastic. But that's just how it is. You don't really know what giving is until you have your own kids. But I don't think it's supposed to be dark. I can't wait to get my lanyard!!!

Sara - Auntie Pam was babysitting last night.

Natalie said...

LOVED both of these, Julie. And "lanyard" must be synonymous with a thousand other things, half of which are made from empty toilet paper tubes.:-)