Billy Collins

“A motto I've adopted is, if at first you don't succeed, hide all evidence that you ever tried.”

Blog Post #1, March 26

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of. (5)

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
anhd watched the quadratic equation pack its bag, (10)
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncles, the capital of Paraguay

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue, (15)
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythalogical river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle. (20)

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Start analysis:
In his poem “Forgetfulness”, Billy Collins chooses to address a topic which moist find too difficult to grasp, and therefore too difficult to write about much less analyze. When choosing to write about a vague or abstract concept, many often turn to love or death or something along those lines because through analysis of human emotion and reaction a conclusion can be drawn. Forgetfulness though, that’s something that most don’t even try to understand. It’s just something that happens to us, bothers us, and we then move on because it’s not up to us whether or not we can remember. Forgetfulness is some aura so beyond our grasp that most just let it be and don’t try to make sense of it. Collins is the master of simplifying (or trying to) the complex.

Collins wrote “Forgetfulness” in free verse. This is almost always the method with which he uses to write poetry. I think if Collins were to limit himself to a rhyme scheme, his poems wouldn’t seem so relatable and in touch with human stream of consciousness. Free verse allows him to explore subjects with freedom. In each stanza of this poem, Collins explores another sector of forgetfulness. I will organize my analysis in a stanza-by-stanza method, as I believe this is how Collins meant it to be interpreted.

First Stanza: “The name of the author is the first to go,” is how Collins opens up this poem. A reference to literature seems perfect for someone who himself participates in the arts. Collins follows the human stream of consciousness. First goes the author, then the title, the plot, the conclusion, and before you know it you have nothing left. What an ingenious way to interpret something so broad as forgetfulness. Books. Books you read years and years ago, and when you try and recall them because they were SO good, you have nothing…You can grasp blindly at plot points, perhaps remember a character’s name here and there, but apart from that, nothing. Collins lists each element as the human mind would forget it. The reader begins to think about which they have forgotten, and they realize it’s in this order that they don’t remember.

Second Stanza: Only three lines, this stanza is the concluding thoughts to the previous. It speaks of memories in a fond and familiar way. It personifies them, saying that memories can retire as do people when they are too old and tired to do the job anymore. The memories, Collins says, will one day decide enough is enough, and they will retire “to a little fishing village where there are no phones”. No phones means no connection to the outside world, and no connection to the outside world means no one to help you remember.

Third Stanza: This stanza opens with the line, “Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye”. The nine Muses were the Goddesses of Arts and Literature, also known as the daughters of Zeus. Collins then mentions forgetting the quadratic equation, something that is learned at a young age in middle school. Followed by the planets, something we learned in elementary school, a list that used to be second nature when it comes to memory. We are forgetting more and more as the poem moves on. We are forgetting things that were engrained into our memory for so many years, and now nothing.

Fourth Stanza: Two lines, a continuation of the previous stanza. Now we have forgotten one of the state flowers. Something that perhaps we learned while doing a project in elementary school. Something that is indeed useless, but at one point in our lives seemed quite necessary to know because this is what we were told by our teachers. “The address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay”—more and more slips away. Particulars, details that previously were committed to memory but at some point down the road must not have been so important anymore because we didn’t bother to remember them quite as often.

Fifth Stanza: This stanza interprets the previous four. Collins knows that now you are thinking of all the things you have forgotten over the years. He knows he has you trapped in the realm of forgetfulness, as was his goal with the poem. He says, “It is not poised on the tip of your tongue, not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen,” which then makes you think that you’ve REALLY forgotten whatever it is you’re trying to remember. That is realization. There are no longer any traces of what you once knew left over…just blankness. Nothing.

Sixth Stanza: Collins analyzes that which you have forgotten even further. He uses imagery to help you imagine it. “A dark mythological river whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,”…you are forgetting more and more. Collins is messing with you now. He is trying to get to you to imagine forgotten memories floating down a dark river into some sort of abyss…except now you can’t even remember the name of this imaginary river where forgotten memories go. What CAN you remember? At the end of the river is “those who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle,” the two things in life they say you can never forget how to do. Once you can ride a bike and once you can swim, it’s supposed to be a life-long skill. What if one day, along with everything else you’ve forgotten, goes the skills you always counted on keeping.

Seventh Stanza: Collins now looks at you, the reader, and draws his conclusion. He repeats the phrase, “No wonder,” in way that seems to be taunting you, chiding you. Collins seems to be saying look at you, you’ve forgotten so much already, no wonder your forgotten memories are haunting you and you don’t even realize it. It’s almost as if the memories are still there because they jolt you awake in the middle of the night or appear in the moon in the night sky, but you don’t realize that those are your memories because you’ve accepted forgetfulness for what it is.



The murkiness of the local garage is not so dense
that you cannot make out the calendar of pinup
drawings on the wall above a bench of tools.
Your ears are ringing with the sound of
the mechanic hammering on your exhaust pipe, (5)
and as you look closer you notice that this month's
is not the one pushing the lawn mower, wearing
a straw hat and very short blue shorts,
her shirt tied ina know just below her breasts.
Nor is it the one in the admiral's cap, bending (10)
forward, resting her hands on a wharf piling,
glancing over the tiny anchors on her shoulders.
No, this is March, the month of great winds,
so appropriately it is the one walking her dog
along a city sidewalk on a very blustery day. (15)
One hand is busy keeping her hat down on her head
and the other is grasping the little dog's leash,
so of course there is no hand left to push down
her dress which is billowing up around her waist
exposing her long stockinged legs and yes the secret (20)
apparatus of her garter belt. Needless to say,
int he confusion of wind and excited dog
the leash has wrapped itself around her ankles
several times giving her a rather bridled
and helpless appearance which is added to (25)
by the impossibly high heels she is teetering on.
You would like to come to her rescue,
gather up the little dog in your arms,
untangle the leash, lead her to safety,
and receive her bottomless gratitude, but (30)
the mechanic is calling you over to look
at something under your car. it seems that he has
to cost more than he had said and take
much longer than he had thought.
Well, it can't be helped, you hear yourself say (35)
as you return to your place at the workbench,
knowing that as soon as the hammering resumes
you will slowly lift the bottom of the calendar
just enough to reveal a glimpse of what
the future holds in store: ah, (40)
the red polka dot umbrella of April and her
upturned palm extended coyly into the rain.

Start Analysis:

In his poem, “Pinup”, Collins takes a simple action, one that most would never choose to focus upon much less write about, and expresses that action with insight beyond belief. Again implementing free verse, Collins seems to be telling a story in a very rhythmic way, one that makes each word and each line seem more important than it would in an average every-day setting. He tells the story of a man who visits the local garage to get his car fixed. While there, he discovers a pinup calendar and the story ensues…

The first three lines uses sharp imagery and very particular word choice to set the scene for the remainder of the poem. We see the “murkiness” of the garage, but it is not too dense, just thick enough to make us squint a bit to see through the fumes toward what the man in the poem is looking at. We see that we are supposed to be focusing our attention on “the calendar of pinup drawings on the wall above a bench of tools,” perhaps easily overlooked in some cases but to this man the focal point of the entire garage. Probably grayed and covered in a thin layer of grime, this calendar hangs upon the wall for all to see. In the fourth line, Collins uses the word “you” and suddenly we aren’t watching a man and his actions, but we are staring at the calendar ourselves and OUR car is being fixed. We hear the loud hammering, inhale the smell of gasoline and body odor, and we let our eyes wonder…We first notice what this month’s pinup girl is NOT doing. She, “is not the one pushing the lawn mower, wearing a straw hat and very short blue shorts, her shirt tied in a know just below her breasts,” so we can now rule out June or July August, as this image in our mind must surely mean summertime. Nor is she, “the one in the admiral’s cap, bending forward, resting her hands on a wharf piling, glancing over the tiny anchors on her shoulders,” again, probably a summer month or perhaps early Fall. We are ruling out months, ruling out the different types of women that could possibly, in any way shape or form represent an entire month through clothing, stance, facial expression. So she’s not the provocative wife mowing the lawn in next to nothing, and she’s not the young girl dressed up as a sailor gazing at you from beneath her hat. She is March, says Collins. March, the windiest month of the year according to weather gurus. Collins describes her in great detail. The wind (as appropriate for March) is blowing her skirt up in an innocent fashion, but one that is completely purposeful at the same time. She grasps the leash of a small dog, yet another symbol of innocence. Except that’s not the point of this photograph at all. We see “the secret apparatus of her garter belt” and all innocence is gone to waste. Collins uses phrases such as, “needless to say,” and “of course,” giving this description a facetious air. She is helpless and she is innocent. The wind has made her its victim. And yet, she is still none of the above. When Collins finishes describing the girl, he acknowledges his impression of her when he says, "You would like to come to her rescue, gather up the little dog in your arms, untangle the leash, lead her to safety, and receive her bottomless gratititude." Looking at this March pinup girl, you've entered into a fantasy world where you are the hero, where you are needed and wanted. But then the mechanic wrenches you out of your fantasy and back into reality by telling you that he needs some more time and more money to get the job done and get it done well. You say that's alright because what else is there to say after turn back to the workbench. Collins recalls the sound of the hammering mentioned at the beginning of the poem. Imagery hits us hard again. We turn back to the workbench, and begin to leave behind the grimy workshop once again as we look at the calendar. To commence the poem, Collins looks forward into the future by means of the calendar. You've had your March fantasy, now what pleasures will April begin? You begin to slip away..her umbrella and upturned palm beckon you into the photograph.

"Pinup" appealed to me for many reasons. The first time I read through the poem, I was an otusider watching a middle-aged man whose been married for a long time find great entertainment and joy through this pinup calendar on the wall of a garage. The second time I read this poem though, I took the place of the middle-aged man. I saw the women in the photographs as more than sultry images on paper. I saw the logic behind the photographs, how they speak to each month, and how humanity is often very quick to leave behind the world we have for a world that only exists in our imagination.

girl.png--example of a pinup girl

Blog Post #2, March 12

"Introduction to Poetry"

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 (5)
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 (10)
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 (15)
to find out what it really means.

Start Analysis:

In his poem, "Introduction to Poetry," Collins once again diverges from the typical paths which most poets follow. He chooses to write poetry on the subject of poetry, in specific, one poem. He once again implements a vague sense of humor through his short witty lines, unexpected comparisons, and light-hearted accusations of people unknown. Writing in free verse as he typically does, Collins is able to address his subject with the freedom with which it deserves, for here in this very poem he is saying that we try and analyze poetry too closely as viewers. We need to step back and let it speak for itself, let it breathe. The poem is set up to read stanza-by-stanza, with each stanza presenting a new idea to support the topic. Collins personifies "the poem" throughout this entire poem, making us feel as though we have or should have some sort of human connection with this poem. Thus, we understand further.

One can infer from the very first line of the poem, "I ask them to take a poem," that the "I" Collins is referring to is some sort of teacher who has suggested a poem for his/her students to analyze deeply. Sharp imagery meant to clarify the meaning of the comparison is immediately implemented thereafter when the poem is referred to as a "color slide"". This imagery then forces us to think of a poem that could also function as a sort of color slide. A color slide changes one's perspective through visual alterations. What Collins is saying here is that a poem is much like this seemingly never-ending alternating form of perspective...depending upon WHO is reading the poem (looking at the color slide), it will read differently and true to what the reader wants to read.

The second stanza is one line and reads merely, "or press an ear against its hive." It seems that Collins is placing a heavy emphasis upon the human senses. In the first stanza we were focusing upon sight, and how different sight means different interpretations of a poem. In this one-line stanza, we are not thinking about hearing. In life, if one were to press their ear up against a bee hive they would hear, quite simply, life inside the hive. This point of view, this comparison, is Collins way of telling us not only to read a poem and really truly look at it, but listen to the poem as well. What it has to say to you may differ entirely from what is has to say to the next.

The third stanza begins Collins next suggestion for how to handle this poem that has been presented to a group of students perhaps? It reads, "I say drop a mouse into a poem and watch it probe its way out," meaning experiment with the poem, don't just read it once and assign a verdict immediately. The tone here, I find, to be fabulous. In my head, it's some amused and entertained suggestive tone, saying, "try this. see what happens for you." The first time you read the poem you may see it one way, but try again an hour later, and your mind may take you to a completely different set of conclusions. Watch as your mind works its way around words and their meanings. See how it shapes and feels out different phrases and images.

The fourth stanza is a continuation of the previous, reading, "or walk inside the poem's room and feel the walls for a light switch". Here is a perfect example of how Collins takes something from every day life, something as ordinary as turning on a light switch in the middle of the night, and applies it to something that will then attribute it much more meaning. Collins is saying don't be afraid to go into reading and interpreting a poem blindly--in fact, do so. Feel around in the dark and see what you find. After examining all of the different layers and possibilities that lie within the poem itself, perhaps there will be the proper time to turn on the light switch. Even if you don't find it, no matter. Keep feeling around the room/poem. No poem can EVER be examined and analyzed too closely.

The fifth stanza requires some sense of humor, or at the very least an imagination. Collins wants the reader to, "waterski across the surface of a poem waving at the author's name on the shore." Why Collins chooses waterskiing? There are of course many possibilities. Perhaps, most obviously, because of the rhythmic undeniable poetry that is waterskiing itself. The beauty that is derived from the majestic combination of water and self working together as one. What's most interesting about this stanza though is how Collins asks of the ready to just wave at the author's name on the shore. He did not say come ashore and shake hands with the author and say hello, he said simply to wave while passing by. I think what he is saying here is that it's not so much who the author is that's important, but more an acknowledgment that these ideas this meaning came from one person. He cannot be denied credit, but he also cannot take all of it for then the poem would lose its chance to be interpreted in so many different ways by so many different people.

The sixth stanza marks the shift in the tone and direction of the poem. It is an accusation of sorts. Collins says of the readers of most poetry, "all they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with a rope and torture a confession out of it." He is, if you think about it, so correct the truth is glaring. When most teachers present poetry or a single poem to their class, the first direction is to find out what the poem is saying. What does it mean? And there's only one answer so don't mess around! How wrong, how insulting to the art form of poetry to demand an answer, and one singular answer at that. Poems are tortured daily by students who have been ordered to do so by educators. In this way, poems are attributed no sense of individuality or perspective, just the same opinion over and over again. Poetry does not deserve to be squandered i this way.

Finally, the last stanza reads, "They begin beating it with a hose to find out what it really means." The students of the teacher have lived up to the unimpressive standards of most students who learn poetry. For they have become frustrated, the answer is not clear. It is hiding in a shadow of ambiguity, so force is required to derive this answer because the teacher says he/she needs it now. The reader has not moved from tying the poem to a chair with rope to beating the poem with a hose to find the true meaning. Never in my lifetime have I seen violence produce positive results...But this is how human nature operates unfortunately. We don't get or see what we want, so we lash out. Before you know it, this poem is nothing but pulp and a few shredded words left over.

Collins leaves you it possible for the reader/a student to appreciate this poem for the right reasons? A strong individual perspective, implementation of sight and sound, refusal to give up?

Billy Collins reading "Introuction to Poetry"


"Child Development"

As sure as prehistoric fish grew legs
and sauntered off the beaches into forests
working up some irregular verbs for their
first conversation, so three-year-old children
enter the phase of name-calling. (5)

Every day a new one arrives and is added
to the repertoire. You Dumb Goopyhead,
You Big Sewerface, You Poop-on-the-Floor
(a kind of Navaho ring to that one)
they yell from knee level, their little mugs (10)
flushed with challenge.
Nothing Samuel Johnson would bother tossing out
in a pub, but then the toddlers are not trying
to devastate some fatuous Enlightenment hack.

They are just tormenting their fellow squirts (15)
going after the attention of the giants
way up there with their cocktails and bad breath
talking baritone nonsense to other giants,
waiting to call them names after thankning
them for the lovely party and hearing the door close. (20)

The mature save their hothead invective
for things: an errant hammer, tire chains,
or receding trains missed by seconds,
though they know in their adult hearts,
even as they threaten to banish Timmy to bed (25)
for his appalling behavior,
that their bosses are Big Fatty Stupids,
their wives are Dopey Dopeheads
and that they themselves are Mr. Sillypants.

Start Analysis.
As mentioned previously, Billy Collins is the master of implementing humor in a variety of ways to his poems. Oftentimes the humor is subtle, or even a more undetectable sarcasm, but here humor is the mold around which this poem, "Child Development"'s, subject is shaped. His diction is most identifiable through his use of made-up words that serve as insults and moreover the most unique part of this poem as a whole. This poem is written in free-verse, as usual, and it is separated into four rather large stanzas.

Collins starts his poem in the first stanza with a comparison of two very different things. Dating all the way back to "prehistoric times" the poem begins at the what marks the beginning of human existence. Rather than referencing the typical idea of human evolution though, Collins chooses to use "prehistoric fish" to be the first human being types to walk this world. His casual, almost sardonic tone in the way references how the fish "sauntered off the beaches into forests" sets the tone for the remainder of the poem. He names the first human language utterances "some irregular verbs for their first conversation," so we now are thinking speaking, language, the beginning, innocence, etc. This is then compared to "three-year-old children entering the phase of name-calling," the comparison point being that this act of name-calling comes natural at a young age. This sets the stage for the rest of the poem.

The second stanza opens with the idea that every new day is a new opportunity for a new name to call someone as a little kid. Day by day small children listen to others and then choose to copy what they hear the next chance they get. "You Dumb Goopyhead, You Big Sewerface, You Poop-on-the-Floor," all insults and names that Collins clearly has either heard or used at one point in his life. A prime example of his usage of humor in poetry. The next line says, "they yell from knee level, their little mugs flushed with challenge," mugs being another word for faces. We now have an image of these young children yelling these insults and names and meaning what they're saying by the looks of concentration and severity on their faces. The next line in this stanza reads, "Nothing Samuel Johnson would bother tossing out in a pub"-- Samuel Johnson was an English author and poet born in 1709. He published "A Dictionary of the English Language," making many significant contributions to Modern English. That being said, Collins is saying that these little toddlers and the names they are choosing to call others are words so bizarre that even a man who wrote a dictionary couldn't come up with them. Collins then refers to Samuel Johnson as a "fatuous Enlightment hack", fatuous meaning silly or pointless, so he is now insulting the man he just referenced in the previous line.

The third stanza begins casually. Collins refers to the adults that the toddlers are looking up at as "giants way up there with their cocktails and bad breath talking baritone nonsense to other giants". SO we can now notice this theme of Collins writing a poem about name-calling while constantly using insults and a different method of name-calling himself throughout the poem. He then switches the focus from the toddlers name-calling methods to the methods of the adults way up above. He says that the giants, "wait to call them names after thanking them for the lovely party and hearing the door close." The truth here is undeniable. Kids never really grow up. Oftentimes even adults are more immature in their methods of judgment and insults, as depicted here through Collins' example of grown-ups' behaviors.

Fourth stanza introduces heavy sarcasm. Collins says that, "the mature save their hothead invective (insulting) for things". He then lists a few example of things that these "mature" adults put forth their invective on. All of the examples seem random and very ordinary, things, but they all share one thing in common- They are boring and they are all things that either lack any substance whatsoever or they're something that would seriously annoy someone--"receding trains missed by seconds". Halfway through this final stanza comes the irony. "Though they know in their adult hearts even as they threaten to banish Timmy to bed for his appalling behavior, that their bosses are Big Fatty Stupids, their wives are Dopey Dopeheads, and that they themselves are Mr. Sillypants." Humor, sarcasm, and irony ends the poem the same way it started. With insults made up by Collins himself, and undeniable similarity between the way toddlers call others names and the way adults think and wish they could call others names.

The title of the poem is "Child Development". Children never really stop being children it seems, irony within the title even.
an example of name-calling among children