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Introduction to Poetry

Billy Collins asks to play with poetry and its words as we read it. Let the poem speak to us and we do not have to beat it with a hose to find out what it really means. I find that each time I return to a poem I find something that eluded me the other times. Maybe it was the mouse trying to find its way out or the waterskiier waving at the poet’s name.

Hermeneutic phenomenology is much like that, as well. When I interviewed each person for my dissertation the first time, they hesitated in telling their stories. The second time, they each began recounting their stories from the first interview.

Paul Ricoeur said hermeneutics is digging below the surface of our stories to find what the text of our lives tells us. I recount the story in poetic, fictive language and understand each time I (re)member the story differently.

“Differences make a difference,” as I am mindful to different aspects of the story and me as a character in that story. I cannot beat the meaning out with a hose.

I ask them to take a poem

and hold it up to the light

like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem

and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room

and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski

across the surface of a poem

waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do

is tie the poem to a chair with rope

and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose

to find out what it really means.

 

Dharma

The way the world and the universe are in order is something we take for granted in daily life. We overlook the ordinary, but there is importance layered in the ordinary. It is here we find the extraordinary. We come and go and, when we pay attention, so much is revealed about the world and the way we help create it.

Billy Collins shared a common, everyday way to examine the patterns of life, the Dharma of the world we live with all the time by examining a dog and the way she lives life without worrying about life.

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her dog house
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.

Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance—
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Ghandi with his staff and his holy diapers?

Off she goes into the material world
with nothing but her brown coat
and her modest blue collar,
following only her wet nose,
the twin portals of her steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of her tail.

If only she did not shove the cat aside
every morning
and eat all his food
what a model of self-containment she would be,
what a paragon of earthly detachment.
If only she were not so eager
for a rub behind the ears,
so acrobatic in her welcomes,
if only I were not her god.

First Reader

We experienced a good day today. We are writing fractured fairy tales which are parodies of the originals. Students turn the story around and rewrite it with a twist. One student explained that the boy who cried wolf was visually impaired and was the victim of pranks by the sheep. Another student told the story of the Billy Goats Gruff through the eyes of the troll. Would you like it if someone were clacking around on your roof? The handsome prince dumps the beautiful princess for the maid in Rapunzel so someone did live happily ever after. The kids have fun with this activity and we talk about perspective. What if I were the Big Bad Wolf? We learn to understand that life is revealed through many eyes and experiences.

Billy Collins wrote this poem which I think expresses the way we learn and shape our learning. Occasionally, we need to let go, just be in the moment, and experience learning. I think we did that today.

I can see them standing politely on the wide pages
that I was still learning to turn,
Jane in a blue jumper, Dick with his crayon-brown hair,
playing with a ball or exploring the cosmos
of the backyard, unaware they are the first characters,
the boy and girl who begin fiction.

Beyond the simple illustrations of their neighborhood,
the other protagonists were waiting in a huddle:
frightening Heathcliff, frightened Pip, Nick Adams
carrying a fishing rod, Emma Bovary riding into Rouen.

But I would read about the perfect boy and his sister
even before I would read about Adam and Eve, garden and gate,
and before I heard the name Gutenberg, the type
of their simple talk was moving into my focusing eyes.

It was always Saturday and he and she
were always pointing at something and shouting,
“Look!” pointing at the dog, the bicycle, or at their father
as he pushed a hand mower over the lawn,
waving at aproned mother framed in the kitchen doorway,
pointing toward the sky, pointing at each other.

They wanted us to look but we had looked already
and seen the shaded lawn, the wagon, the postman.
We had seen the dog, walked, watered and fed the animal,
and now it was time to discover the infinite, clicking
permutations of the alphabet’s small and capital letters.
Alphabetical ourselves in the rows of classroom desks,
we were forgetting how to look, learning how to read.

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