Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins has a new book of poetry and I couldn’t be happier. I got to chat with him a bit last summer at the American Library Association annual conference and he was as charming as ever.
I’ve loved his poetry for a long time, and when the Palm Beach Poetry Festival got going, he was one of the first guests of honor. To hear him read his work is just, well, fantastic, and now I hear his voice, his inflections, when I read it myself.
Here is a clip of Billy reading three of these poems on A Prairie Home Companion:
This is his twelfth book of poetry, and it made me laugh and think and cry, all the sorts of emotional response that good writing, especially good poetry, will imbue. Some of my favorites…
“Lucky Cats” begins:
It’s a law as immutable as the ones
governing bodies in motion and bodies at rest
that a cat picked up will never stay
in the place where you choose to set it down.
I have felt this sensation when traveling but have never been able to express it as succinctly and beautifully as this, from “Bashō in Ireland”:
The sensation of being homesick
for a place that is not my home
while being right in the middle of it
“Early Morning” made me laugh out loud. Another cat poem, it begins:
I don’t know which cat is responsible
for destroying my Voter Registration Card
so I decide to lecture the two of them
on the sanctity of private property,
the rules of nighttime comportment in general,
and while I’m at it, the importance
of voting to an enlightened citizenship.
“Speed Walking on August 31, 2013” was written as a memorial for the brilliant Seamus Heaney (if you haven’t read his translation of Beowulf, do yourself a favor and get it – this illustrated edition is spectacular.) That was followed by “December 1” which is a poem celebrating what would have been Billy’s mother’s birthday:
If my mother were alive,
she’d be 114 years old,
and I am guessing neither of us
would be enjoying her birthday very much.
This poem reminded me of my mother and my loss and made me cry.
I sent my son the poem “Thanksgiving” because he spent this past holiday with his girlfriend’s family in Chicago and sent me a picture of this beautiful vegetable platter laid out to look like a turkey. I’d seen pictures online (like this one) but hadn’t known anyone who actually went to all that trouble, and here Billy gently poked fun. He reads it in the YouTube video above.
Poetry is such a personal thing – I will end with a poem (that Billy reads in the video) so you can decide for yourself if you want to read more. I hope you do.
It’s possible that a stitch in time
might save as many as twelve or as few as three,
and I have no trouble remembering
that September has thirty days.
So do June, November, and April.
I like a cat wearing a chapeau or a trilby,
Little Jack Horner sitting on a sofa,
old men who are not from Nantucket,
and how life can seem almost unreal
when you are gently rowing a boat down a stream.
That’s why instead of recalling today
that it mostly pours in Spain,
I am going to picture the rain in Portugal,
how it falls on the hillside vineyards,
on the surface of the deep harbors
where fishing boats are swaying,
and in the narrow alleys of the cities
where three boys in tee shirts
are kicking a soccer ball in the rain,
ignoring the window-cries of their mothers.
2/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™
THE RAIN IN PORTUGAL by Billy Collins. Random House; 1St Edition edition (October 4, 2016). ISBN 978-0679644064. 128p.