Friday, August 03, 2007

Easy Readin' Poet #3: Billy Collins

I wrote about this guy before, and this is what I said:
Accessible, charming, brilliant. A romp. If humour columnists Josh Freed (Montreal Gazette) or Gary Lautens (Toronto Star) wrote poetry, this is how they would write. Actually, I find a lien to Italo Calvino. In particular, Mr. Palomar.
I was talking, by the way, about his 2002 new & selected, Sleeping Alone Around the Room. I enjoy the once-through, a few poems the twice-through, but three times, well... comparisons come to mind of eating candy floss. This ex-Poet Laureate, though, is too easy to diss. Here's a personal favourite:


My favorite time to write is in the late afternoon,
weekdays, particularly Wednesdays.
This is how I go about it:
I take a fresh pot of tea into my study and close the door.
Then I remove my clothes and leave them in a pile
as if I had melted to death and my legacy consisted of only
a white shirt, a pair of pants, and a pot of cold tea.

Then I remove my flesh and hang it over a chair.
I slide it off my bones like a silken garment.
I do this so that what I write will be pure,
completely rinsed of the carnal,
uncontaminated by the preoccupations of the body.

Finally I remove each of my organs and arrange them
on a small table near the window.
I do not want to hear their ancient rhythms
when I am trying to tap out my own drumbeat.

Now I sit down at at the desk, ready to begin.
I am entirely pure: nothing but a skeleton at a typewriter.

I should mention that sometimes I leave my penis on.
I find it difficult to ignore the temptation.
Then I am a skeleton with a penis at a typewriter.

In this condition I write extraordinary love poems,
most of them exploiting the connection between sex and death.

I am concentration itself: I exist in a universe
where there is nothing but sex, death, and typewriting.

After a spell of this I remove my penis too.
Then I am all skull and bones typing into the afternoon.
Just the absolute essentials, no flounces.
Now I write only about death, most classical of themes
in language light as the air between my ribs.

Afterward, I reward myself by going for a drive at sunset.
I replace my organs and slip back into my flesh
and clothes. Then I back the car out of the garage
and speed through woods on winding country roads,
passing stone walls, farmhouses, and frozen ponds,
all perfectly arranged like words in a famous sonnet.


Nick said...


"Then I remove my flesh and hang it over a chair.
I slide it off my bones like a silken garment."

Tried that once, but I'm still trying to get the creases out of my birthday suit.

Great poem - thanks for posting it.

Anonymous said...

I like this. Reminds me of a comic strip--featuring a skeleton beatnik smoking in a coffee shop--that I read in that trashy Broken Pencil magazine a few years ago. The narrator's leaving his clothes in the corner to appear as if he had melted reminds me of many superhero comics and Spider-Man episodes I've witnessed over the years.

--Wall-crawling Rob

Brian Campbell said...

Thanks, guys, for your comments. It seems, according to Google, this is the only complete quote of this poem on the net. (Yes, I had to type most of it out -- only excerpts were available). And yes, it's very cartoon-like.

Pris said...

I enjoyed this...was put off when I hit the 'melting to death', then got past that and really had fun with the poem, espeially imagining a skeleton with a penis writing about love and death:-)