The Oh-So-Wonderful Mr. Collins

The Writer’s Almanac gave me another gift today: a poem by Billy Collins. I wish I knew Mr. Collins. He seems to be someone who would be a pleasure to know. We could discuss the big issues and the minutiae, too — just as he does in his poems.

Without further ado, here’s the poem that filled me with admiration and affection for Billy Collins today.

The Effort by Billy Collins

Would anyone care to join me
in flicking a few pebbles in the direction
of teachers who are fond of asking the question:
“What is the poet trying to say?”

as if Thomas Hardy and Emily Dickinson
had struggled but ultimately failed in their efforts—
inarticulate wretches that they were,
biting their pens and staring out the window for a clue.

Yes, it seems that Whitman, Amy Lowell
and the rest could only try and fail
but we in Mrs. Parker’s third-period English class
here at Springfield High will succeed

with the help of these study questions
in saying what the poor poet could not,
and we will get all this done before
that orgy of egg salad and tuna fish known as lunch.

Tonight, however, I am the one trying
to say what it is this absence means,
the two of us sleeping and waking under different roofs.
The image of this vase of cut flowers,

not from our garden, is no help.
And the same goes for the single plate,
the solitary lamp, and the weather that presses its face
against these new windows–the drizzle and the
morning frost.

So I will leave it up to Mrs. Parker,
who is tapping a piece of chalk against the blackboard,
and her students—a few with their hands up,
others slouching with their caps on backwards—

to figure out what it is I am trying to say
about this place where I find myself
and to do it before the noon bell rings
and that whirlwind of meatloaf is unleashed.

–from Ballistics. © Random House, 2008.

Ah, if only “those study questions” had really ever helped with anything.

Mr. Collins may not know it, but — when  it comes to experiencing poetry — he’s an unschooler.


9 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Shirley said,

    I love Billy Collins, too 🙂

  2. 2

    Marinela said,

    beautiful 🙂 I enjoyed reading it

  3. 3

    Lori said,

    love billy collins — and i hadn’t read this poem, so thank you! :^)

  4. 4

    deldobuss said,

    That was grand. Bravo Mr. Collins.

  5. 5

    Hey, I’d love to read your blog — but the chartreuse is blinding me. Just trying to help!

  6. 6

    sgaissert said,

    I’m so sorry! You are the second person since I started the blog (over a year ago) who has that problem. Maybe you can adjust some setting on your monitor? Because I really like the spring-y green . . .

    Seriously, I hope you find a way to read it. In the meantime, I will read your blog. 🙂


    • 7

      barbarabarbara said,

      Hi, Susan, Thanks for the reply and the visit. You know, I can’t find the settings on my monitor to make adjustments — and blog, family, life make it impossible to find the time to hunt around for the monitor’s instruction manual. I will endure. Barbara

  7. 8

    barbarabarbara said,

    PS. I also can’t figure out how to fix my photo that more than just my right arm shows!!!! That’s Manhattan the background…

  8. 9

    barbarabarbara said,

    Actually, I’m I haven’t a clue where that BarbaraBarbara thing comes from. IN spite of it all, it’s so fun to blog, tech-less wonder though I am.

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