Friday, November 28, 2008

Casual Friday--Poetry V

On and off for at least three years, I continually pick up and skim through Picnic, Lightning by Billy Collins. I don't know that much about his history, other than his previous tenure as the U.S. Poet Laureate and his set place as one of America's most respected poets. While I plan to do more research on him and other poets (both established and independent), for now, I feel that it's to my benefit to not know much about his accepted, defined style or to have instant comparisons to his previous poetry collections. I only purchased Picnic, Lightning in order to do a presentation some years back in an introductory poetry class. As I read some selections this week, I feel that I picked up on what could be considered his "style," as varied as that definition can be, especially in relation to poetry.

The poem that jumped out at me is entitled "After the Storm," a look at a house in the early morning, following a late-night dinner party. I'm not going to transcribe the entire piece, but I want to look at some select stanzas in relation to my understanding of his aesthetics. The first stanza is simple, with simple metaphors that render their descriptions in an utterly perfect manner:

"Soft yellow-gray light of early morning,
butter and wool,
the two bedroom windows
still beaded and streaked with rain (41)."
I re-read the second line over and over, each time more amazed at how perfect the description is in relation to the first line. Butter and wool. Yellow and gray. Soft and slightly abrasive. Again, I use the word "simple," but it is in no way an insult to Collins's craft. Instead of going for a slightly more obscure reference, he opts for descriptions that trigger the senses. As I'm always ready to remind people during my poetry posts, I'm trying to build up my knowledge of poetic craft, and it's a testament to Collins's talent that what seem like easy metaphors at the beginning are actually untouchable.
"the long table, dark bottles of Merlot,
the odd duck and brussels sprouts,
and how, after midnight,
with all of us sprawled on the couch and floor (41),"
This is the fifth stanza, and to me, Collins is walking a delicate line. While the beauty of poetry is the ability to find poetic movements in everyday life, there's a slight risk of "boring" some readers with imagery of a pretty standard dinner party. However, the last line hints to the fifteenth stanza, which is familiar to everyone:
"even the ghosts of ourselves
had to break up the party,
snub out their cigarettes,
carry their wineglasses to the kitchen (43),"
Once again, Collins whips out the poetry of the mundane. The "ghosts of ourselves" reminded me of your typical hangover, even if this isn't what he intended to begin with--we all wake up after late nights with vague memories of dragging ourselves up, finishing the long nights, and engaging in late night tasks: emptying ashtrays, gathering up empty bottles, etc. Of course, I'm leaving out the main storyline of the poem--hints of a previous night's party reflecting themselves the following morning. And I'm probably committing a major sin by just focusing on three stanzas of a poem that consists of nearly twenty. However, what I wanted to show is that Collins can take what appears to be "basic poetry" and "simple events" and make them captivating.
Work Cited:
Collins, Billy. Picnic, Lightning. Copyright 1998 by Billy Collins.

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