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Billy Collins and an Analysis of his Poems

Sarah Hickman

on 23 April 2010

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Transcript of Poet

Billy Collins Born in 1941 in the same hospital where poet William Carlos Williams once was on staff.
Was an only child, and he was raised in Queens, New York until his father became a prominent insurane broker at which time the family moved to Westchester, New York.
Wrote his first poem at age 12, and later was on the staff of his high school's literary magazine.

Influences Background Collins' father brought home copies of poetry magazines rom his workplace that had been thrown away. Billy read these and was encouraged to write his own poetry, beginning at age 12.
Billy Collins studied the Romantic era and tried to incorporate elements of Romantic poetry into his own poems. It didn't ahve the effect he wanted though.
As his poems evolved over time, his own style emerged, and combined his innane sense of humor with a serious tone. ANALYSIS: "Forgetfulness" 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.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital in Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of you tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon int he window seems to have drifted out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

"Forgetfulness" Title has serious tone. Once you being reading though, it is misleading. The poem has humor added in with a somewhat serious subject. Collins pokes fun at the human race, but uses real events that aren't uncommon to each of us. Is a characteristic of human beings; we all do it at some point. Use of humor, reveals the excuses we use when we know we've forgotten. Collins' use of personification and imagery make the poem entertaining, and help stimulate our imaginations. He makes a simple subject interesting. Uses simple language, it isn't elaborate or hard to read. Findings Billy Collins uses humor to make his poems interesting and drift away from the serious base of the poem.
For readers, it is very relatable and isn't unusual for us to experience.
Collins incorporates many instances of personification and imagery into the poem that helps to create depth and interest. ANALYSIS: "Child Development" As sure as prehistoric fish grew legs
and sauntered off the beaches into forests
working up some irregular verbs for their
first conversation, so three-year0old children
enter the phase of name-calling.

Everyday a new one arrives and is added
to the repertoire. You Dumb Goopyhead,
You Big Sewerface, You Poop-on the Floor
(a kind of Navaho ring to that one)
they yell from knee level, their little mugs flushed with challenge.
Nothing Samuel Johnson would bother tossing out
in a pub, but then the toddlers are not trying
to devastate some fatuous Enlightenment hack.

They are just tormenting their fellow squirts
or going after the attention of the giants
way up there with their cocktails and bad breath
talking baritone nonsense to other giants,
waiting to call them names after thanking
them for the lovely party and hearing the door close.

The mature save their hothead invective
for things: an errant hammer, tire chains,
or receding trains missed by seconds,
though they know in their adult hearts,
even as they threaten to banish Timmy to bed
for his appalling behavior,
that their bosses are Bit Fatty Stupids,
their wives are Dopey Dopeheads
and that they themselves are Mr. Sillypants.

"Child Development" Findings Yet again, the seemingly serious title throws off the reader, because the actual poem is humorous and again pokes fun at the behavior of people.
The poem has an ambiguous nature. It mixes both serious and humorous elements.
The imagery in the poem gives it more substance, but doesn't overpower it. The language is also not so elaborate that it is difficult to read.
Serious connotation that is misleading Use of humor makes this human vice comical Reference to evolution; the poem itself is about the evolution of name-calling. Imagery creates interest and helps make the poem more entertaining. The imagery also helps make the humor in the poem stand out more. Samuel Johnson: English author who created the Oxford English Dictionary Simple language makes it easy to read, for example: Good example of Collins' style, which is a mix of both a serious and a humorous tone. ANALYSIS: "I Ask You" "I Ask You" What scene would I want to be enveloped in
more than this one,
an ordinary night at the kitchen table,
floral wallpaper pressing in,
white cabinets full of glass,
the telephone silent,
a pen tilted back in my hand?

It gives me time to think
about all that is going on outside--
leaves gathering in corners,
lichen greening the high grey rocks
while over the dunes the world sails on,
huge, ocean-going, history bubbling in its wake.

But beyond this table
there is nothing that I need,
not even a job that would allow me to row to work,
or a coffee-colored Aston Martin DB4
with cracked green leather seats.

The imagery and personification used create whimsy and a calm in the poem.
Collins' lack of humor in the poem does not make it any less interesting. With a reflective tone, the poem is more though provoking and deep than both "Child Development" and "Forgetfulness".
Collins utilizes his surroundings and makes them part of his works of poetry. No, it's all here,
the clear ovals of a glass of water,
a small crate of oranges, a book on Stalin,
not to mention the odd snarling fish
in a frame on the wall,
and the way these three candles--
each a different height--
are singing in perfect harmony.

So forgive me
if I lower my head now and listen
to the short bass candle as he takes a solo
while my heart
thrums under my shirt--
frog at the edge of a pond--
and my thoughts fly off to a province
made of one enormous sky
and about a million empty branches. The serious connotation of the title foreshadows the serious nature of the poem. “Daily things, for Collins, are a great source of material for poets. In seemingly trivial events, the poet discovers profundity” (Lawlor). Contemplative poem that uses imagery to make the reader think and imagine what is being said in the poem. The personification Collins uses is though provoking and stimulates the reader's imagination Even in the simple context,
Collins is able to create interest in basic objects and a quiet evening. Collins transforms an ordinary evening into an extraordinary experience. REVIEW!!!

At what age did he write his first poem?
Name two things that influenced Billy Collins' style of writing.
What two different tones and/or styles are seen in both "Child Development" and "Forgetfulness"?
What literary devices are seen in all three poems? How do they affect the way the poem is read?
In the poem "I Ask You", what is the main difference between it's tone and the other two poems?
Name some characteristics of Collins' poetry that you noticed or were discussed.
Which poem is your favorite!? Why?

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