December 15, 2008

The Trouble with Poetry

Not a big poetry reader I know, but I've done the rounds. I didn't get an undergrad Lit. degree for nothing. I can tell when Billy Collins is channeling Frost or Dickinson or or making a reference to "an appointment in Samarra" which is the title of an O'Hara novel based on a Sommerset Maugham retelling of an old Jean Cocteau story about death.

But that kind of knowledge only gets you so far and is wonderfully skewered in Collins' own poem, "The Introduction" which teases other poets for their own obscure references. That poem, the title work and a few others are quite funny in his wry, dry way. But there is a strong sense of melancholy mixed with the obvious love of language and the world which Collins is known for.

It's a wonderful collection of work, both sweet and longing, with dark undercurrents and bright moments filled with life. Sad and sweet with a seemingly light touch that can probe surprisingly deep at times.

Oh, and what is the trouble with poetry?

"But mostly poetry fills me
with the urge to write poetry,
to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame
to appear at the tip of my pencil."