The Trouble with Poetry – And Other Poems
By Billy Collins
I did not buy this book of poetry. I say that not to distance myself from it or poetry in general. I state it simply as a point of fact. I’ve written before that I am a genre reader. I like my genre, and occasionally enjoy expanding beyond that genre when the mood strikes me. My mother gifted me this collection of poems for my birthday. I had done the same on her last birthday, though not poetry. Instead I gave her S**t My Dad Says and The Art of Racing in the Rain. Both good books, I should probably review them here.
I’m glad she gifted me this book.
Billy Collins is formerly Poet Laureate of the United States. The back cover states, “Billy Collins shows that good poetry doesn’t have to be obscure or incomprehensible.” I think that is a fair statement.
My undergraduate degree is in Comparative Liturature. I chose it because it was broad, not just English lit, but also languages, art, film. You can justify most courses that interest you. During the seven years from my freshman year to a graduation that was a great relief to my parents, I studied some poetry. Not much of it struck a chord with me, much of it was obscure, and I didn’t want to invest my time to learn the canon.
Perhaps because of that, my first reaction to Mr. Collins’ book was, “that ain’t poetry.” A good friend of mine reflected, some 30 years ago during our college years, that modern poetry seemed like common prose, but with breaks. You could, and if memory serves he did, take a newspaper article about a tragic event, add breaks, and present it as poetry in a class.
A white Honda
was found flipped onto
its roof and it looked
like it had hit several trees
The driver was pronounced
dead at the scene
The above is not the actual poem from thirty years ago, but you get the idea. I started reading Mr. Collins’ book, and this was all I could think of. I changed my mind about halfway through.
I like good prose, interesting turns of phrase that surprise and get you thinking. While not all of the poems in the collection did that, some did. The most successful was The Lanyard. 42 lines, simple language. And yet, it was able to convey a lifetime of love. I still thought it was good prose, though. Not quite poetry. Maybe really good prose is poetry. Or maybe some good poetry just reads like prose.
Not every poem struck me like this. I still will probably not buy a book of poetry (especially since 87 pages double spaced was $15 – paperback). But I’m glad I read it.