Tag Archives: Billy Collins

An Old Dog Who Doesn’t Enjoy Poetry Learns a New Trick (Enjoying Poetry)

I’ve never been a fan of poetry. I read it in high school and was an English major in college so I read it there, too. Feeling like poetry was something I should know more about and enjoy, years ago, I bought Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize. I never opened it and ended up donating it. I was exposed to poetry on a regular basis by life and by myself, but had never really found a poem that excited or spoke to me until a few weeks ago when I was looking at a blog and stumbled onto this Margaret Atwood poem from Selected Poems, 1965-1975.

We are hard


We are hard on each other
and call it honesty,
choosing our jagged truths
with care and aiming them across
the neutral table.

The things we say are
true; it is our crooked
aims, our choices
turn them criminal.


Of course your lies
are more amusing:
you make them new each time.

Your truths, painful and boring
repeat themselves over & over
perhaps because you own
so few of them


A truth should exist,
it should not be used
like this. If I love you

is that a fact or a weapon?


Does the body lie
moving like this, are these
touches, hairs, wet
soft marble my tongue runs over
lies you are telling me?

Your body is not a word,
it does not lie or
speak truth either.

It is only
here or not here.

If I had been reading this blog a couple of years ago, I would have already known that Margaret Atwood wrote poetry (I just knew her from her fiction). I may have also heeded Leigh Anne’s words of “…If you do not like poetry, I strongly suspect is simply means that you have not yet found your poet. Or maybe it’s just one poem, your poem, buried somewhere in the stacks or lost in the tangled web of the internet…” This is my one poem. (I had been listening to a lot of Sharon Van Etten at the time I first saw this poem so I was in a dark, romantic, miserable place. Had I been listening to happier music, it’s possible I wouldn’t have enjoyed the Atwood poem as much.)

Now that I’ve tentatively stepped on to the path to poetry, I checked out three other poets I’d been interested in, but resisting. Billy Collins, who I am constantly confusing with Billy Connolly and therefore constantly being amazed that a Scottish actor became Poet Laureate of the United States, is the first. Picnic, Lightning is the collection I chose from Collins. Like many other people, I read Cheryl Strayed‘s Wild and was blown away. She took Adrienne Rich‘s The Dream of a Common Language on her hike through the Pacific Crest Trail so I thought I’d read her and chose, Later Poems: Selected and New, 1971-2012. The last poet is Pablo Neruda. I chose 100 Love Sonnets because a few days after discovering the Atwood poem, I read his Sonnet 27 and found another one of my poems.

MargaretAtwood PicnicLightning  AdrienneRich  100LoveSonnets

I’ve been attempting to read one poem a day from each poet. I can’t say that since reading Atwood’s poem that the flood gates have opened and I’m now a devoted poetry reader, but I’m learning. I do have favorites by each of the poets I’ve read and I’m less weary of opening a book of poetry.

What’s your one (or one of many) poem? Do you remember the poem that made you think, “YES! I understand now!” or have you always been a poetry fan?



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Poetry: New and Recommended, Part II


 Here are eleven (our favorite number again) more new and noteworthy poetry titles (plus one audio, for an even dozen) featured in our International Poetry and Literature collections. This is a companion list to last year’s recommended poetry post.



In addition, in anticipation of the upcoming Billy Collins poetry reading in Pittsburgh at the Drue Heinz Lecture Series, the Main Library’s poetry discussion group, 3 Poems By, will be taking a look at the work of the former Poet Laureate on Tuesday, February 12th. The discussion is open to all; details may be found at the 3 Poems By website. Mr. Collins has also just released a much-praised new collection, Ballistics, which you can snap up for the right price (free) at the library anytime.

In preparation for that meeting, I’ve been talking to folks about Collins and reading lots of his poems. A colleague of mine recommended some of his favorite Billy Collins poems to me. Here’s one, short and sweet, with Collins’s signature humor, laced with a mitigating thread of melancholy:


No Time

In a rush this weekday morning,
I tap the horn as I speed past the cemetery
where my parents are buried
side by side beneath a slab of smooth granite.

Then, all day, I think of him rising up
to give me that look
of knowing disapproval
while my mother calmly tells him to lie back down.

Billy Collins


Yes, indeed.



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A Quiet Life – Baron Wormser

T.S. Eliot believed the role of the artist was to take what is familiar and make it strange, and to take what is strange and make it familiar. I relate most easily to works of art that follow Elliot’s adage, without going to extremes.


I like poems that incorporate aspects of the everyday, which take events or objects out of time and encourage focus and reflection. Billy Collins is a well known and deservingly lauded highlighter of the everyday. A less well known, favorite poet is Baron Wormser. I discovered him on Writer’s Almanac a few years ago, in the month of January with a poem titled “January.”


Mr. Wormser just published a book of poems, Scattered Chapters: New & Selected Poems (Sarabande Books, 2008). It’s on order at CLP. Until it arrives, read a few featured new poems on the Writer’s Almanac website. Here’s the beginning of one called “A Quiet Life”:


What a person desires in life
   is a properly boiled egg.
This isn’t as easy as it seems.
There must be gas and a stove,
   the gas requires pipelines, mastodon drills,
   banks that dispense the lozenge of capital.





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