Sunday, June 19, 2011

Monday - Billy Collins

The birds are in their trees,
the toast is in the toaster,
and the poets are at their windows.

They are at their windows
in every section of the tangerine of earth-
the Chinese poets looking up at the moon,
the American poets gazing out
at the pink and blue ribbons of sunrise.

The clerks are at their desks,
the miners are down in their mines,
and the poets are looking out their windows
maybe with a cigarette, a cup of tea,
and maybe a flannel shirt or bathrobe is involved.

The proofreaders are playing the ping-pong
game of proofreading,
glancing back and forth from page to page,
the chefs are dicing celery and potatoes,
and the poets are at their windows
because it is their job for which
they are paid nothing every Friday afternoon.

Which window it hardly seems to matter
though many have a favorite,
for there is always something to see-
a bird grasping a thin branch,
the headlight of a taxi rounding a corner,
those two boys in wool caps angling across the street.

The fishermen bob in their boats,
the linemen climb their round poles,
the barbers wait by their mirrors and chairs,
and the poets continue to stare
at the cracked birdbath or a limb knocked down by the wind.

By now, it should go without saying
that what the oven is to the baker
and the berry-stained blouse to the dry cleaner,
so the window is to the poet.

Just think-
before the invention of the window,
the poets would have had to put on a jacket
and a winter hat to go outside
or remain indoors with only a wall to stare at.

And when I say a wall,
I do not mean a wall with striped wallpaper
and a sketch of a cow in a frame.

I mean a cold wall of fieldstones,
the wall of the medieval sonnet,
the original woman's heart of stone,
the stone caught in the throat of her poet-lover.

As a sort of follow up to my own effort yesterday, I present Billy Collins, who was the inspiration for the frank style I attempted to emulate.  Needless to say, my effort does not capture what I think makes this poem, and most of Billy Collins' work, so magical, and that is the effortless and indescribably powerful tone shift that takes place in the last three stanzas of the poem.

Throughout the entire poem, the tone is somewhat playful, aloof, and tongue in cheek.  The constant joking reminder of the window being the station of the poet, coupled with the many stereotypical "poetic" images create a really light, carefree, breezy sort of mood.  Collins flips that mood on its head at the end, my bringing in the image of a wall.  The wall of the medieval sonnet, as he said.  This image, and this complete switch to earnesty in tone, is so effective.  As I read it, I feel a lump in my throat, and it's the image of that stone, caught in my throat, that comes to mind.  The first time I ever read this poem, I realized I was crying, and I couldn't understand why.  I was laughing and there were tears coming down.  It was a beautiful moment.  If I can come close to Collins' level of tone manipulation in my own poetry, I will be very happy.

What do you think?  Is Collins' tone shift effective, or am I just a sentimental baby?  Let me know!


  1. It has been several years since I read this poem, and I wanted to reread it again and that is how I happened upon your blog. It was a pleasure to read the poem again. It was also a pleasure to read your short analysis. It is spot on. It is also refreshing to read how other people also get emotional over poetry, thanks for sharing

  2. nice, loved to read beautifull poem
    good taste admin
    best regards:

  3. what would you say is collins' statement?