CRITIQUING BILLY COLLINS

So, I just got back from USC this past weekend after my month at the USC/LARB publishing workshop, which was an absolutely amazing experience. The people at the Los Angeles Review of Books are all extremely outgoing and kind. They clearly care about the value that every publisher brings to the table—we heard from smaller presses like Angel City Press and Tia Chucha, as well as massive corporations like Netflix and Amazon, and all the magazines, authors, and so on in between.

It was this constant dedication to diversity that made me wish to discuss the work of Billy Collins today briefly. Specifically, I wanted to talk about the poems in The Rain in Portugal, since I just finished it and it is fresh in my mind still. I should preface this with A) that I have not read all his work—in fact this is the only collection of his work that I have read, so take what I say with a grain of salt and B) that I really enjoyed his work. Like it was some of the most inspiring, thought provoking poetry I have ever read.

With that in mind, I wanted to talk about the issue I have with the collection. The issue I have found is that, in many cases, Collins provides only a male-centeric narrative to his poems. Under the Stars, Cosmology, and A Day in May (also titled “May Day”) I think illustrate this issue the best. Under the Stars portrays a person, who is most likely a man, pissing under the stars. While the overall message is to find tranquility in the most unusual of areas, the emphasis on fraternity creates a sort of in-group versus out-group mentality, where the reader may feel alienated if they lack a penis.

Similarly, Cosmology paints the image of the world resting on a variety of unusual pictures (the infinite backs of turtles, for example). Collins decides that placing the world on the back of Keith Richards, holding a bottle of Jack Daniels and smoking a Marlboro cigarettes is the ideal place to rest the world. Of course, this is meant to create humor, but the decision continues to uplift the male narratives. Which isn’t necessarily bad, until Collins begins to represent women to the contrary.

In Collins work, women often become objects. A poem is personified as a woman, for example. And truthfully, it is extremely romantic and lovely to read. But it also can be one-dimensional. One example of this is in A Day in May, in which Collins highlights a girl telling him “have a nice day.” In his brief commentary afterwards, he mentions this statement as being “an irritant” because the girl could not possibly know how good the day was already. Yet to describe her as an irritant seems unfair. She was simple a cashier doing her job, and being polite about it at that. This representation presents women as “lesser” people. Which I think is on the border of cruel.

Anyways, that’s just my opinion. I still adore his poetry—I just ordered a couple more of his collections. But I still think that we can do better—or at least should be aware of the problems that exist even at the highest branches of poetic form. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

 

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REVIEWING THE BOOK REVIEW

Book reviews always make me curious. I love them, but at the same time, I wonder why people read them. And people DO read them, The Los Angeles Review of Books (aka LARB), which is a lovely website, thrived when they filled a void that existed in the industry for book reviews—but I wanted to talk about the idea of a book review.

When I think of a book review, I think of some detailed discussion about a few things. 1) What the book was about, 2) the key elements of the plot, themes, and other motifs, and finally 3) how it all relates to the bigger picture of life. Which is certainly something that matters to the overall discourse of the world, isn’t it? It presents a different interpretation, as well as potentially missed aspects of a story someone read.

Yet papers often run book reviews concurrent to release dates. LARB does this sometimes, though they also do book reviews of things several years down the lines. The classic book review though, which is designed to boost the popularity of a book on release, comes out often the same day as the book. Which doesn’t make sense to me. What discourse can that add to the world? It will get lost in the paper. I’m not going to finish my brand new book, track down the now week-old paper, and reread a book review to really understand how it ties into the bigger picture of things. Not when Goodreads comments often add just as much value. No wonder that industry went through a pretty hard reset.

How would I improve this? Well, I mean it’s really just adjusting the dates of release. If a book releases Wednesday, and it takes two weeks for the average person to finish reading…well then they should publish the review two weeks later. It’s not like a superfan is going to be upset the review is a bit later, and people often rave about books the most right when they finish. Repetition and intensity are what make people remember a product.

What do you think? Would you rather read a review a few weeks later? Let me know in the comments!

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USC PUBLISHING WORKSHOP!

Oy vey! It’s been a long Monday (Monday? Cassady it’s Tuesday. And it’s only 3:00 PM). Shut up I’m sleepy (just kidding I love you). I’m writing this on Monday at roughly 9:00 PM, since it appears that I have a few hours every night to myself, which means I should HOPEFULLY be able to keep up the blog. Though we are expected to be starting various projects for the workshop I am at (oh yeah, I’m at a publishing workshop at USC right now, hosted by the LARB), so it is quite possible that I will be busy with that at some point. Regardless, I am settling in well, though I do have some stories to tell you. We had two speakers today (yesterday), one was Richard Nash, who is a famous entrepreneur, and the other was Henry Jenkins, who has done quite a lot of work in the various multimedia industries (you can click on their names to learn a bit more about them and their work). Both talked about a lot of interesting things, which I might share at some point, but it is a lot to talk about in this short period of time that we have.

What I found interesting was the stark difference between the two speakers. Nash, who started our day off (after a long three hour introduction to the workshop), was lively and upbeat. He had a PowerPoint that was not your general “oh cool, another PowerPoint,” but rather a meaningful addition to his presentation. He spoke with charisma, and carried that general “TED talk” kind of air about him. In some ways, it felt more like a performance than just a presentation. To contrast this, Jenkins spoke really quietly and deliberately. Every…word…carried…some…heavy…weight…on…it’s…shoulders. Though he didn’t speak slowly, necessarily. It just felt like he was trying to slug through a dense forest, where Nash seemed to be surfing a clear wave.

That being said, both speakers were very intelligent in their areas. At first, I thought Nash was the more interesting of the two, but the more I think about it the more I come back to the ideas Jenkins brought up and find myself wondering.

OK, secondary side tangent, much less related to my academic experience. I am staying in the USC dorms, and they are quite nice. But it is four people split between two rooms, and somehow all three of my roommates (housemates?) are women. Not that I have a problem with it. It just seemed a little bit odd to me that the planners would do that. Then again, I think there are only something like 9 or 10 males out of the 55 people attending, so it’s possible I am just the odd man out. Does it seem weird to you? I certainly like my roommates, and fortunately I believe I am a genuinely respectful guy…but they couldn’t know that for sure.

Regardless, I am having a wonderful time at USC, and the campus is lovely. Look forward to haikus tomorrow!

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LIFE UPDATES

Ah, it’s good to be free. School is over. Weeks of freedom are ahead, for some. For me, I will be going to USC for a Publishing Workshop with the LARB (The Los Angeles Review of Books) for a whole month, starting next week, which is—in its own way—a sort of freedom. But, that does mean dubious things for my free time. I will be busy ALL day with the workshop, pretty much from sun up till past dinner, with speakers and so on.

Now, you may wonder why exactly I am bringing this up. I mean…cool, that’s my life right? Well, the main reason I am bringing it up is because I am uncertain how much free time I will have to work on this blog. To be as consistent as possible, I have been doing one entry per day, every day of the week, for over a year now. That’s quite a bit of time, and I have loved doing so—it has helped me grow as a writer and as a person. But at this workshop I will be doing just that—growing and developing. Which means that I will already be doing what I wanted to do with this blog.

Of course, I don’t PLAN to be going away. If I can find the time, I will be writing daily still. But I might miss a couple days. And I don’t want anyone who reads my work daily to be worried. Normally I can plan out exactly when I will have time to write a post ahead of time to do so (see last year’s vacation posts), but this year I was caught up with graduation and other things, and couldn’t prewrite a month of posts. Plus, that’s less fun.

Anyways, I figured I could take today, my slow day, to post an update about the future, and update you on my life. I went to Las Vegas last weekend for a short vacation, which was super fun (no I didn’t go to EDC, but I certainly dealt with the traffic on the way home). We went to the Peppermill twice, which was incredible, and had Brazilian…BBQ? All you can eat food. It was amazing. I ate WAY too much. I also finished in the top 350 of a 4000-person tournament I played in, which was a fun experience, albeit not how I would have adored.

Well, that was my week. Let me know how you are spending your first few weeks of summer in the comments below!

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