memorial for a brilliant woman

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Birthday, Billy Collins!

From The Writers Almanac 3-22-08

Today is the birthday of poet Billy Collins, (books by this author) born in New York in 1941. Collins is both a critically acclaimed and popular poet, a unique combination in the world of modern poetry. Collins began writing poems at age 12. He devoured all the poetry he read, especially the contemporary poems in Poetry magazine. In an interview, Collins explained, "I remember reading a poem by Thom Gunn about Elvis Presley, and that was a real mindblower because I didn't know you could write poems about Elvis Presley. I thought there was poetry (what you read in class) and then when you left class there was Elvis. I didn't see them together until I read that poem."

Collins began selling his poems to Rolling Stone for $35 a pop in the 1970s. He married Diane Olbright in 1977 and published his first book of poems, Pokerface, that year, but it wasn't until the publication of Questions About Angels in 1991 that he began drawing critical attention. His other major poetry collections are The Apple that Astonished Paris (1988), The Art of Drowning (1995), Picnic, Lightning (1998), Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems (2001), Nine Horses: Poems (2002), and The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems (2005). Collins' style is light, humorous, and fond of extended metaphor. He uses mundane situations as diving boards into the larger philosophical questions of life.

His poem "Forgetfulness" starts this way:

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,

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.

Collins said, "Usually I try to create a hospitable tone at the beginning of a poem. Stepping from the title to the first lines is like stepping into a canoe. A lot of things can go wrong."

It's also the 40th anniversary of the death of A1C Kenneth E. Baker, Jr of Detachment 13, 30th Weather Squadron, Binh Thuy AB, meteorologist. he was the older brother of a high school friend and we had been corresponding. I never met him in person. He was scheduled to come home March 25th. My poem "Warrior" was published in the Memorial Day 1998 issue of Echoes Magazine. It was my first published poem, it appeared first in the magazine, right after the table of contents.

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