Sunday, September 1, 2013

I Think It's Time for Poetry

Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins  
This book actually belongs
with the poem below.

I ask them to take a poem   
and hold it up to the light   
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem   
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room   
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski   
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope   
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose   
to find out what it really means.
Billy Collins, “Introduction to Poetry” from The Apple that Astonished Paris. Copyright � 1988, 1996 by Billy Collins. 
This past Christmas my son gave me a surprising gift, Mary Oliver  New and Selected Poems Volume One.  Oliver is winner of The Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and The National Book Award — clearly a heavyweight.  It was a thoughtful gift but what really amazed me was that inside this volume was a poem my therapist had given me as a nod to the big changes I was making in my life at that time.  I share it with you — 

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice 
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do 
determined to save
the only life you could save.
Mary Oliver from Dream Work  1986

And just this week as I got on the subway, there before me was another nudge to poetry.  A poster in the subway — a joint effort of the Metropolitan Transit Authority called Poetry in Motion:

An excerpt from a March 27th, 2012 press release


 Poetry in Motion Is Back

Back by popular demand, poems are returning to the subway after a four-year hiatus. We have joined with the Poetry Society of America to restore Poetry in Motion, the popular program that brought thought-provoking poems and poetry excerpts to the subway between 1992 and 2008...

For those of you not lucky enough to step into a subway car and be confronted with lush poetry on beautifully designed There is a beauty to poetry that makes one pause and reflect and think more deeply about what's on the surface as well as what's hidden below.  Even if poetry isn't your thing, you owe it to yourself to read Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the United States, who writes so simply and beautifully that his words and the images they create take your breath away as evidenced by this gem. 

On the Death of a Next Door Neighbor

So much younger and with a tall, young son
in the house above ours on a hill,
it seemed that death had blundered once again.
Was it poor directions, the blurring rain,
or the too-small numerals on the mailbox
that sent his dark car up the wrong winding driveway?
Surely, it was me he was looking for -
overripe, childless, gaudy with appetite,
the one who should be ghosting over the rooftops

if only death had consulted his cracked leather map,
then bent to wipe the fog
from the windshield with an empty sleeve.

Billy Collins 
from Ballistics, 2008

So if you want to see the missing stanzas from "On the Death of a Next Door Neighbor," or if a poster prompts you (or me) to read the poems of Tracy K Smith or if a transition in your life calls out for more of Mary Oliver — do what you need to do — get ye to a bookstore or library for more of these riches.


  1. Wow! These are some powerful images! Thank for the wake-up call! S.

  2. Last winter I went to the 92nd Street Y to hear Mary Oliver recite her poetry... she is a jewel... her poems rocked my soul... probably my favorite poet...... LL

  3. Just For You:
    "Love after Love" (by Derek Walcott)
    The time will come
    When, with elation,
    You will greet yourself arriving
    At your own door, in your own mirror,
    And each will smile at the other's welcome.

    And say, sit here, Eat.
    You will love again the stranger who was your self.
    Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
    To itself, to the stranger who has loved you

    All your life, whom you ignored
    For another, who knows you by heart.
    Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

    The photographs, the desperate notes,
    peel your image from the mirror.
    Sit. Feast on your life.