Monday, July 6, 2009

Friends Meeting, Part 5: Billy Collins

Roger shared two poems by Billy Collins. Roger has been bothered by a neighbor's barking dog in the past few days; Roger shared this first poem due to that. I like how this poem's title frames the poem.

Another Reason Why I Don't Keep A Gun In The House

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,

and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.

When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton

while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.

—Billy Collins

Roger shared another poem by Billy Collins, this one about the tendency to avoid the hard work of writing. I'm sure some bloggers are familiar with the cleaning syndrome.

Advice to Writers

Even if it keeps you up all night,
wash down the walls and scrub the floor
of your study before composing a syllable.

Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way.
Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.

The more you clean, the more brilliant
your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take
to the open fields to scour the undersides
of rocks or swab in the dark forest
upper branches, nests full of eggs.

When you find your way back home
and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink,
you will behold in the light of dawn
the immaculate alter of your desk,
a clean surface in the middle of a clean world.

From a small vase, sparkling blue, lift
a yellow pencil, the sharpest of the bouquet,
and cover page with tiny sentences
like long rows of devoted ants
that followed you in from the woods.

—Billy Collins

Both of these poems appear in the collection, Sailing Alone Around the Room


Alden Smith (Nick name - Pal) said...

I am not sure that I agree with his advice for writers but I love his poem about the barking dog - it reminded me of song popular many years ago where dogs barks of different pitches were placed in the song "Jingle Bells" and played on NZ radio every christmas for years, corny but great fun!

steven said...

hey dan - i enjoyed these poems and like alden above, i'm not sure about the advice for writers. certainly, i like a degree of chaos around me when ever i write or paint or even need to think. there's something about an internal island of ordered chaos surrounded by a sea of books and notes and music and whatever other detritus has randomly accumulated that makes it easier to create for me. the barking dog - well we have one near here that drives my wife 'round the bend - if she lets it!! have a peaceful day. steven

Dan Gurney said...

Collins is writing facetiously (I love that word; it has all the vowels in alphabetical order) disorder is inextricably woven into reality which is why the ants stream into his room after all the cleaning.

Good writing requires us to plunge into disorder, complexity, and darkness. We must become familiar and comfortable with them just as they are--and not try to fix them up and clean them out--if we wish to write anything worth reading.