Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Billy Collins

As I've mentioned a couple times, my wife and I were in Nashville Thursday through Saturday at Lipscomb University's Christian Scholars Conference, centered on the theme of "The Power of Narrative." One of the four plenary speakers was Billy Collins; I'm sure I'll have more later this week about the conference, but in lieu of the weekend, enjoy this wonderful poem by the always witty, absurdly poignant Collins, and my own afterward in the same spirit.

[Update: I have taken down poems I am in the process of submitting for publication. I apologize for the confusion and/or inconvenience!]

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Purity

By Billy Collins

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 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.

2 comments:

  1. Billy Collins was there too!?! Jeez louise!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think narrative, as a beautiful human expression, is really important not just to get inspiration, but to feel connected and understood. For instance, when I was told I needed generic viagra for life, I needed months to recover from those news, and it was Literature what finally made me feel a little better.
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