Sunday, January 2, 2011

Billy Collins... are you my long lost cousin or something?

Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Sung Dynasty, I Pause to Admire the Length and Clarity of Their Titles

It seems these poets have nothing
up their ample sleeves
they turn over so many cards so early,
telling us before the first line
weather it is wet or dry,
night or day, the season the man is standing in, 
even how much he has had to drink.

Maybe it is autumn and he is looking at a sparrow. 
Maybe it is snowing on a town with a beautiful name.

"Viewing Peonies at the Temple of Good Fortune 
on a Cloudy Afternoon" is one of Sun Tung Po's.
"Dipping Water from the River and Simmering Tea"
is another one, or just
"On a Boat, Awake at Night."

And LuYu takes the simple rice cake with
"In a Boat on a Summer Evening
I Heard the Cry of a Waterbird.
It Was Very Sad and Seemed to be Saying 
My Woman Is Cruel--Moved, I Wrote This Poem"

There is no iron turnstile to push against here
as with headings like "Vortex on a String,"
"The Horn of Neurosis," or whatever.
No confusingly inscribed welcome mat to puzzle over.

Instead, "I walk Out on a Summer Morning 
to the Sound of Birds and a Waterfall"
is a beaded curtain brushing over my shoulders.

And "Ten Days of Spring Rain Have Kept Me Indoors"
is a servant who shows me into the room
where a poet with a thin beard
is sitting on a mat with a jug of wine
whispering something about clouds and cold wind, 
about sickness and loss of friends

How easy he has made it for me to enter here, 
to sit down in a corner;
cross my legs like his, and listen.

Loren gifted me with these two excellent books this Christmas:Nine Horses: PoemsSailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems
and I have been LOVING them.  It is a long time since I have just genuinely enjoyed a book of poetry like this.  Reading Billy Collins is like sitting down to a glass of wine with a long lost friend, the kind you look forward to meeting up with because you know he will be so full of erstwhile adventures, witty, quirky insights and tongue-in-cheek humor. I highly recommend either if you are looking for a good book of poetry to pick up and put down in these quiet winter months.


  1. Have you seen this? It was going around a while back.

  2. I love that Ang! I saw that a few months back, and aside from it being amazing I also really liked the poem, hence looked up the poet and mentioned it to Loren who bought me the books. I quote that poem to Sadie when I change her diapers, "there's just NO way that you're the pine scented air.":)