An Insatiable Lover

We’ve been having some pretty ridiculously great weather lately. If I had a real job (sorry, Mom), I probably would have played hooky last week to go and hang out by one of the lakes. Instead I just read a bit by Calhoun, but without the sense of freedom (or guilt) of having emancipated myself from a necktie.

Anyway. The poetic equivalent to our early summer comes, I think, in the verses of former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins. Whenever I finish one of his poems, I just feel so damn pleasant afterwards.

Maybe here’s why (from an interview with Collins conducted by The Cortland Review):

Collins: Most of the devices used in poetry-meter and rhyme and assonance and the other kinds of tropes or effects-are really meant to give the ear pleasure in a way that prose does not. Poetry also appeals to the ear because poetry is an interruption of silence. A poem should be preceded by silence and followed by silence. A poem for me displaces silence the way your body displaces water.

Or maybe here’s why (from an interview with Collins conducted by Terra Incognita):

Collins: I am extremely reader-conscious, perhaps because I am tired of reading poems that seem to ignore the reader. I feel that I am talking to a reader/listener as I write, so that a good deal of my effort is just to make the poem clear. To get things in the right sequence so that the poem is easy to follow. Not just easy, but easy to follow because the poem is going somewhere, and I want the reader along to share whatever surprises the journey may hold. I try to begin the poem on a common ground, which is a way of assembling a little group around the campfire of the poem. Scoutmaster Collins will then tell some scary stories.

Or maybe here’s why (from an interview with Collins conducted by Guernica):

Collins: There’s a great pleasure in-I wouldn’t say ease, but maybe kind of a fascinated ease that accompanies the actual writing of the poem. I find it very difficult to get started. There are just long gaps where I can’t find a point of insertion, I can’t find a good opening line, I can’t find a mood that I want to write into. But once I do, once a line falls out of the air, or I get a little inkling of a subject and I recognize that, it’s like the sense that a game has started. Part of writing is discovering the rules of the game and then deciding whether to follow the rules or to break them. The great thing about the game of poetry is that it’s always your turn-I guess that goes back to my being an only child. So once it’s under way, there is a sense of flow.

And now one of his poems. This is from his Nine Horses collection. (Click the link to buy it…)

Aimless Love

This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.