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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TALKIN’ ‘BOUT POETRY

So I made a friend recently (whoa! so hard to imagine, right?) in my time at USC, which isn’t to say that I know them super well, but I really wanted to talk about an interesting conversation we had the other day. They shared with me some of their poetry (like ten poems), and I got to read through it. it was super cool (sorry I can’t show you all, but it’s not mine to reveal).

But I did want to recount the awesome parts. Which aren’t really…well, aren’t really the actual words that matter. I mean, obviously the words of a poem matter, they’re what make a poem poetry…but that isn’t what was important to what we were talking about—it was the discussion. Which is not only where a poem sits in the history of poetry, but also how it affects and influences the reader. For example, I’ll use an aspect of my poem yesterday (because what kind of self-centered author would I be if I didn’t refer to my own work?):

 

“as I hang there suspended, swinging

in the breeze on a nice, thick rope

 

like back in Florida, above the water,

while my father roared with laughter”

 

So those lines, are the last two and first two lines of two different stanzas, and I like to think that they create a nice contrast in perspective. The first two lines, from the end of the first stanza, create the image of a body swinging from a rope…which, lets be honest, sounds like a suicide or a hanging. The break makes the reader pause, and allows (ideally) the brain to process it. Then, the latter two lines contrast the darkness of those lines with the nostalgic image of falling into the water, with a father laughing in the background. This creates a dialogue in the readers head, which I think everyone reacts to differently. Is the narrator actually suicidal, and reflecting how their life went? Are they happy, and just being cynical? Are we just misreading them? Hard to say.

Anywho, I just wanted to pause some questions, because I think poetry reading is one of the most interesting things there is. Let me know your thoughts!

——

 

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TEN THOUSAND WORDS

In ten pictures, I’ve seen ten thousand words,

Yet in ten words, I’ve found ten thousand more.

 

‘Course they wouldn’t tell you of that magic,

Not anymore, not nowadays. Not when

We hunger, feed, thirst, and drink for vision.

Not when we are pacified by color.

Not when we are made ravenous by lust.

By the need to see, rather than to know.

By the need to have, rather than to hold.

By that carnal, burning desire to win,

‘Ther than admit defeat for the greater good.

 

But I can show you a world divine,

Where true lovers rest, and heroes reside.

Where the wars are fought for nobility,

And the wind’s pass us by much more slowly.

A world with some truth, and pain, and lies,

And a world where good men go to die.

But a world more real than on TV

Hides within those pages for you and me.

 

Those ten thousand words can last a lifetime

While pictures fade as memories decline.

——

 

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THE HALLWAY

I woke up in an empty, white paneled hallway. It was lit with rows of florescent lights, which reflected off the walls to make them appear even brighter. When I got up to look around, I noticed that there were no windows, but in the distance there was the vague outline of a doorway. I glanced behind me, only to see the ongoing nothingness continued that way as well.

I began to walk thought the hallway. The emptiness was filled by the soft pattering of my shoes beneath my feet. The clothes I had woken up in felt clammy, and stuck to my skin awkwardly, but the more I walked, the more they fell away from my skin. The door, which had been but a tiny outline in the distance, grew closer as I walked toward it, and it became clear that it was built for another time period.

In stark contrast with the walls around it, the door was made of a faded bronze metal, with a handle rather than a doorknob. As I put my hand on the door handle, my eyes came into contact with a large door knocker. The knocker was made of a large metal serpent’s head, which looked vaguely draconic. The serpent held the metal knocker ring in its mouth. The ring itself was another work of art, which had been fashioned with careful detail into the design. Rather than smooth metal, the ring had been made to look like a chain of people moving into and out of the serpent’s mouth.

I realized I had been transfixed on the serpent, and shook my head back to the task at hand. I pushed and pulled on the door handle, but found it to be stuck in place. A few more shakes and I yielded. I sighed, and took a step back from the door to look around. The white halls stretched endlessly on either side, but in the distance from the direction I had come I could hear the faintest of sounds. Dah-duh…Dah-duh it was the unmistakable rhythm of someone—someTHING walking closer. I strained to look into the distance, and noticed a speck of black at the edge of my sight. It was definitely moving, albeit slowly.

Fear shot through my body, and I had the sudden urge to run away. I restrained myself, and turned back to the door. I wondered what could be on the other side of the door. Freedom. Safety. Slavery. Murder. Death. It was the great unknown, locked to me. And what monstrous being would be on the other side? But as my ears turned back to the slowly approaching creature down the hall, I decided it was best to take my chances. At worst, I would have two things coming for me instead of one. I drew my hand up to the ring of people, and banged it hard against the door twice. I stepped away from the door again, and prepared myself for what came next.

One…two…three moments past before I heard the distinct clank of metal unlatching from the other side. The door swung open, and the stale air of the hallway mixed with the moist, wooden air of the new room. Standing in the doorway was a little girl, no older than my cousins. She was pale white, with light brown hair that fell down to the middle of her back. She looked on at me with wonder; her head cocked to the side slightly. Her eyes were black and dead, yet her mouth moved with the most colorful and lively emotions. Shy, happy, concerned, scared, and so on. She was dressed in a white ballerina’s leotard, and white ballerina shoes.

“Hello,” I said cheerily, meeting her empty eyes with as warm a smile as I could muster, “and what is your name?” She didn’t answer. I glanced off into the room, and saw nothing but a black void before me.

“Do you have parents? Or a caretaker? Would they be available for me to speak to?” Again I was met with silence, though this time the little girl stepped back from the door and into the darkness. The light faded away from her body, and I could barely make out the barest hint of her form. She beckoned me in, then stepped to be completely engulfed in the darkness.

——

 

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TONE IN LITERATURE AND LIFE

From time to time, my father and I talk about a variety of subjects. Anything from alcohol, to weight lifting, to…well, really anything. Yesterday, my dad finished reading Honored Enemy, a book by a (slightly) lesser-known fantasy author: Raymond E. Feist (at least, compared to George R.R. Martin), and we were considering it in comparison to the Game of Thrones series (yeah I know it’s called A Song of Fire and Ice officially, but everyone calls it Game of Thrones). My dad asserted that Feist’s characters were more hopeful, which I thought was an interesting perspective, since at many times throughout his book, they knowingly face and fear certain doom.

To contrast, the characters in Game of Thrones, while often times very dire (I mean, the Stark’s house words are “Winter is Coming,” which is indicative of a fear of death, rather than an enjoyment with life) also hold a sense of hopefulness at various points, it just doesn’t seem hopeful. Think about it. Tyrion is hopeful in his own way—in the sense that he thinks he can overcome pretty much anything with his own wit. Renly is hopeful in a way too. He is very fun loving, and clearly represents some amount of goodness in the world. Vars, in his own way, is hopeful that things can go well, and Littlefinger is hopeful in his own schemes. Though I would categorically say that Game of Thrones is far less hopeful than most books.

Which takes us to the point of this post! Tone! The whole tone of the story frames the perspective it takes. And I like to think of stories as an allegory for life. This one is that the tone you take can change how you look at life. If everything you think is hopeless, then the world will seem that much darker. But if you can look at the things around you, and find some greatness in it, suddenly you might be able to enjoy it a bit more—even in dire straights.

Alright, well I’ll leave it a bit shorter today, but don’t forget that life can be really great, just as books can be really great, even if there are many points where the world seems too big, and the battles you are fighting seem hopeless. Let me know what your thoughts are on the subject. Is life better when we view it as better? Or does the pessimism lead to better successes in happiness?

——

 

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LOVE POEM #34 – SOLACE FOUND

I’ve never seen a more handsome couple

Than my best friend and his hesitant bride.

Which isn’t to say that either’s supple,

But that no lovers exhibit such pride.

He’s round ‘bout the edges, and pudgy too;

With a mouth you can’t take home to mother.

And he loves to make a hullabaloo

By saying that they don’t love each other.

And I’m not quite sure I’d call her a catch.

She’s quiet, and a tad bit annoying.

She’s the kind of girl that would leave a scratch,

And I would prob’bly find disappointing.

Yet together, somehow, they pirouette,

Like he’s Romeo to her Juliet.

——

 

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LOVE POEM #32 – A LITTLE FANTASY

I have this little fantasy,

Where every morning, you and me

Wake up beneath the unlit skies

With an adventure in our eyes.

 

We pack our bags, and picnic too,

And set out, as the sky turns blue.

We scale up the mountain’s peak

Till we come to the point we seek:

 

The highest point our eyes can see,

Occupied by a lonely tree,

With leaves more green than summer’s grass

And roots more deep than legends past.

 

Up there we waste away our day

Without the need for words to say.

Just cheese and wine and happy thoughts;

Admiration for what we’d wrought.

 

As the sunsets, I see us both,

Sitting beneath the undergrowth

We’re arm in arm, and cheek to cheek,

And I feel the urge to speak.

 

The sudden welling in my throat

Is realer than all I’ve wrote.

And there, beneath that glist’ning view,

I have to whisper “I love you.”

——

 

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A YEAR IN THE BOOKS

Hello everyone,

 

Today is a good Tuesday for a discussion. It’s cold out, I’m at work on spring break…just a perfect day. Wait…that’s not perfect at all! Then again, nothing can really put a damper on my mood today, because today we (I?) are celebrating one year of blogging! Technically, cassadyblog turns one year old on this coming Thursday, March twenty-third, but as discussions are on Tuesdays, it seemed most appropriate to put this “year in review” segment today.

As you may or may not have noticed, I started out writing this blog pretty exclusively as a discussion of my ideas. I’ve talked a decent amount on just about everything—politics, gender, race, global warming…the list goes on. But then things took an interesting turn as I started trying some creative writing here and there. I realized I adored it—specifically, I really liked poetry. It called to me. The rhythm was like a siren calling out to a sailor—beautiful and irresistible.

Likewise, writing short snippets of stories is something I took up after a few attempts at it. I realized that writing short stories was something that let me focus on really getting into the nitty-gritty detail of things—which is something that sonnets and such often are forced to leave a bit more broad. I mean, how does one fit the details of scenery, complexities of dialogue, and development of character into one-hundred forty syllables? It’s pretty hard—I mean, isn’t that why Shakespeare wrote plays too?

Anyways, I wanted to do a couple things with this post. First of all, I wanted to thank all of you for reading. I had a friend recently check out what I had written, and she was kind enough to tell me how much she liked it. I don’t write for people—I do it because I enjoy it. That being said, I can’t pretend like there haven’t been days where I wanted to bail entirely. There are always doubts, misgivings, and fears about a project, but the happiness, the smiles, and the support are all things that have kept me going when I’ve felt like quitting. So thank you.

The second thing I wanted to do with this post was provide a list of my top 5 pieces of work for the past year. I know, based on WordPress statistics, what everyone likes most of my work, but none of you know the works that I have liked the most. With that in mind, here is a list (with links) to my top 5 favorite works from this past year of writing (and of course, I ranked them because who doesn’t love ranking things?):

 

#5 – Views from the Coop

 

This is one of a few haikus I wrote, and has been followed by several after it that I’ve enjoyed very much. But somehow, relating chickens to people is something that I have found an everlasting appreciation for, ever since I wrote it.

 

#4 – Stand Up Citizen

 

This was the poem that actually sparked my desire to continue writing poetry. It was the third original poem I posted on my blog, but the first born from personal experience and real, current emotions. I can still see myself, on the rooftops of L.A., sitting and waiting in disbelief and anger. In retrospect it’s a little…well, it could be better, and, like my emotions at the time, it’s a little rough around the edges, but I like it just the same.

 

#3 – An Eternity in an Instant

 

Similar to Stand Up Citizen, this was one of the first short stories I wrote. After a thought experiment of smiling at everyone I saw, I recognized that the people that smiled back were often people I would never see again, and that moment between us was so meaningful, yet completely intangible. It has been a memorable experience for me in my writing, despite how short it was.

 

#2 – A Stroke of Red Ink

 

I have a soft spot for haikus alright?! Though this is a poem made up of several. I think A Stroke of Red Ink is probably the most interesting poem I have written so far. It has aspects of cultural differences with both the language difference in some actual French words, and the abuse of the black girl (and the character’s inability to help her). It has powerful imagery with the lake of red ink swallowing the dreamer, and it has allusions to other aspects of literature—all of which is juxtaposed with a certain irony.

 

#1 – Camouflage

 

Do you ever unintentionally make a rhyme, and it sticks with you for…like months? That’s what the last two lines of this poem have been for me. I’ll be standing in the shower, or walking through the halls, and BOOM “why is it that you / Hide behind that suit of red, white, and blue?” hits me like a bullet. I wrote it in December, after the results of the election had finally sunk in, and the hypocrisies of various nationalistic characters began to show their ugly faces. The “I Want You” poster kept popping into my mind, and I decided to write a poem applying that image to our current political climate.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Where would I be without a myriad of honorable mentions? Many of these I think about regularly—things I could have done better, turning points in my life, and so on. I encourage you to check them all out, though if you have read this far, I’m sure there is no need for me to tell you that.

 

A Choice

Tweedle-Dee-Do

Off Ramps

Chapters

I Wrote You a Poem

The Morning After

Visitors of the Mind

Train Stop

Harnessed Lightning

Connecting Hillary’s Two Faces

——

 

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BEDTIME STORY PART 2

Before you begin, make sure you have read part one of this short story, so that you have context for it. Enjoy!:

 

The next evening went very similar to the one before. I made dinner, Lizzie watched TV, I cleaned up, Lizzie ran around the house screaming wildly. She brushed up and got in bed. I was tired from my long day at work, but as I was walking Lizzie to the bathroom to brush her teeth, she piqued my interest.

“Can you tell me more of that story from last night?” she said in a solemn voice.

“The one about you in the boat?” I asked.

“Yeah!” her face lit up as she doused her toothbrush with bubble gum toothpaste. I smiled and nodded my head, then went to set up the chair in her room. A few minutes later, Lizzie was in her bed ready to sleep. She was really quiet, and it filled me with a slightly anxious feeling. Even I didn’t know what would happen next.

“Do you remember what happened yesterday?”

“Yeah!” she exclaimed, “I was on a boat and then I was in a cave and then I fell asleep by the fire.” Her eyes were aglow with excitement.

“Pretty much,” I said, “OK, so then…” I paused and thought for a moment, “so then you wake up with a start. There was a chilly wind that passed through the cave, and it sounded almost like a low bellowing voice calling out to you. You were so shocked from your sleep that the memory of the dream you were having fades too quickly for you to remember it. The embers of the fire have nearly died out. They flicker lightly against the darkness of the room. You apprehend the cave around you, and realize something seems quite different about it. The air tastes different; the smell of lilac and grass from the meadow before has been overtaken by the rock and stone of the cave around you.

“Finally it becomes clear what’s missing. The water! The endless river that had brought your here had disappeared! Your boat, along with all your things, sits on an empty shore. It was as if you had slept for ten million years. You pack your things to go, taking care not to spill your lantern from the night before. Just as you turn to leave the cave, a second wind pushes you back. Again, the low hum of some unknown calling rings in your ears, and you turn back to the darkness of the cave. It seems deeper than the night before—as if it were to go on forever. You pull your lantern from your bag, unsure of what it could be, and set out into the depths of the cave.

“The darkness envelops you, the light of your lantern extending only a few feet out around you. As you walk deeper, you hear the echoes of your feet bouncing back from the distance. It’s eerily silent. The air is cool. You walk for nearly an hour when suddenly a flash of blue lights appears to your right, not thirty feet away. The lights are moving, shifting, rising, and you realize that the cave is shaking as a massive beast rises from a slumber. Its furry body is covered with unearthly gemstones, which light up the area to look as though it were under the sea. It is on two massive legs, and looks fat by its proportions. Its massive arms hang low against the ground, and its hands hang in a loose fist. It rears up to its full height, the blue light from its shoulders illuminating the previously unknown ceiling of the cave.

“You hear it bellow in a deep voice, which seems more ancient than the Earth itself, ‘Who has disturbed my slumber?’” I glanced at my watch. It was nearly ten o’clock. “Alright Liz, that’s a good place to stop.”

“NO!” She exclaimed, “please no I want to know what happens.” Her voice was pleading.

“Well, then you’ll just have to wait till tomorrow.” I smiled at her in the darkness of her room, and kissed her on the forehead. She was frowning, but remained silent. “Goodnight,” I said to her, and turned toward the door.

“Goodnight,” she called back to me as I closed the door behind me.

——

 

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WISE WORDS (AND OTHER HAIKUS)

Writing

I am a writer

And I talk about problems.

I think I’m cliché.

 

My Room

My room’s a forest

Of cloths and books and papers.

Tread lightly alone.

 

As Long As…

Trust me, you’re safe here.

As long as you obey me

And do as I say.

 

Trophy Shelf

Look at my trophies:

The greatness of childhood,

Now covered in dust.

 

Wise Words

Grandfather, help me.

I feel I’ve lost my way.

Then make a new one.

——

 

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