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Arguably the most popular poet in America, Billy Collins provides readers with two types of poetry that is nothing like typical poetry. One of his unique styles is writing as if the poem could be read like a novel. The other type brings humor and whimsy to his work, yet he hints at a seriousness that lies beneath the surface. Both styles of poetry are easy to read, but take a second look to realize what the Collins is intending the reader to understand.
Billy Collins is an exceptionally talented poet whose writing at first can be taken to be a simple comedy but when read more carefully, it can be interpreted as a far more complex script. First readings of the poems I Chop Some Parsley While Listening To Art Blakey’s Version Of Three Blind Mice, Victorias Secret, and Shoveling Snow with Buddha might convince the reader that Collins is offering poems that are clever yet easy to read and understand.
A quick reading of Collins poems shows a similarity of his witty style, although the subject matter of each is different.First glance readings of these poems might lead readers to the following interpretations.
A man wasting his time flipping through the pages of a Victorias Secret magazine. A man shoveling snow from a driveway with Buddha. Lastly, a man daydreaming about the childrens rhyme Three Blind Mice. However, if these poems are read more carefully they reveal a hidden richness in their meanings. In the first reading of the poem Victorias Secret, the narrator is flipping through the pages of a lingerie magazine.
He describes the outfits of the eight models in great detail. For example, wearing a deeply scalloped / flame-stitched halter top / with padded push-up styling / and easy side-zip tap pants. Also, the narrator evaluates the mood of each model by the expression on her face. For instance, looks at me over her bare shoulder, / cannot hide the shadow of annoyance in her brow. None of the models in the photographs seem to like narrator looking at them. Yet, even still the narrator continues to look at the next model until he realizes that he has wasted too much time already. He still has so much to do and it sounds as if there is a commotion going on in his house.
The dog is barking, the phone is ringing, and the rain is beating on the roof. In a second and deeper reading of Victorias Secret Collins describes each of the models in an absurd pose. This is from the hard work the modeling agencies put the girls through. Collins is making a mockery of the girls and in greater sense, the modeling agencies. For example, her mouth is the shape of petulance. a confused mixture of pain and surprise / as if she had stepped on a tack arching one eyebrow slightly and best of all stretched out catlike Since, Collins is a college professor in New York City, all of these big modeling agencies advertisements are all over the streets, that is why he is making such a mockery of them. All of these models are in awkward poses that they obviously are not comfortable in but, still agree to do them just to be in the photo. Another thought Collins is trying to get across to the reader is the amount of time the narrator had spent looking at pictures. The narrator represents every average everyday guy who since childhood has spent a lot of time looking at pictures.
This child had grown up to be a man and still imprinted in his memory, a good time is looking at pictures; of course, now of societies definition of beautiful women. The last thought Collins throws into this poem is the idea that life is too short to waste. Life is rushing by like a mad, swollen river. He puts the image of roses blossoming in the garden and the next minute it is snowing. In the first reading of Shoveling Snow with Buddha the narrator is shoveling a driveway with Buddha. This is something that is very unlike Buddhas usual environment and unlike his usual action. Once the narrator gets past that point, it becomes a story of two guys shoveling a driveway. They work and work We toss the light power into the clean air. Then the narrator realizes that what they are doing is more than just shoveling snow; they are practicing a religion. This is so much better than a sermon in church, Thought the poem Buddha is mostly silent until the snow is piled high all around them, he then asks if they could go inside and play cards after they finish.
This strikes the narrator excitement and he tells Buddha that not only will they play cards but, will also drink some hot chocolate. Buddha is satisfied with the narrators reply and returns to his work.In a second and deeper reading of Shoveling Snow with Buddha Collins portrays Buddha as a well respected person. The first point Collins is trying to get reader to understand is that respected men are humble. Respected men do work without complaining and they do not stop until the goal is reached. smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe, Buddha keeps on shoveling. purpose of existence, but he is too busy to hear me. All morning long we work. This is why Buddha is shoveling snow, from a driveway that is not even his. The setting of this poem also relates to Collins childhood, where he grew up in New York and after the snow, shoveling the driveway is not an easy task for one man to do. When the narrator says This is the true religion, the religion of snow, / and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky, / I say, This is where Collins inputs religion into the poem.
The goal of Buddhism is enlightenment; in the poem the narrator truly feels enlightened by shoveling snow. That is why he appreciates things such as the sunlight and the geese barking in the sky. The final point Collins puts in this poem is when Buddha asks can we go inside and play cards? Since Buddha is interpreted as a normal human in this poem, every human needs a source of motivation no matter how much he wants to help. Playing cards is Buddhas source of motivation in this poem.In the first reading of I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey’s Version of Three Blind Mice the narrator is chopping vegetables while listening to some music. When the song Three Blind Mice comes on he goes into a daydream about how the mice went blind, how they could have found each other, and why they would run after a farmers wife. The narrator then slips into thoughts of the mice without eyes and tails venturing through moist grass and on the floor along the baseboards.
The narrator then becomes saddened by his thoughts and blames his wet eyes on the dicing of an onion.In a second and deeper reading of I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey’s Version of Three Blind Mice Collins uses the narrator as a guilty cynic. is the cynics answer. cynic who always lounges within me. A cynic is one who believes in selfishness as the motivation of human actions and disbelieves in selflessness. Collins compares the cynic of the childrens rhyme to the cynic inside the narrator. Although, the narrator in this poem does feel remorse for the mice; this is the point Collins is trying to get the reader to understand. There is always a way for a person to go from cynical to respectful. Yet, in this poem the narrator tries to elude the reader by making reference to the fumes from the onion for causing his wet eyes. It is only ironic that the next song that comes to play is Freddie Hubbards mournful trumpet on Blue Moon. The music in this poem demonstrates Collins love for jazz, even though it is a mournful trumpet playing he uses his own hobbies to illustrate a feeling for the reader.
Collins is known for using detailed writing to bold the element of imagery in his poetry. In Victorias Secret Collins goes into great detail to what the models are wearing. wearing a deeply scalloped / flame-stitched halter top / with padded push-up styling / and easy side-zip tap pants. whisperweight camisole with / keyhole closure and a point desprit mesh back. wearing nothing / but this stretch panne velvet bodysuit / with a low sweetheart neckline / featuring molded cups and adjustable straps. All of these images are easily put into the readers mind and allow the reader to actually see the models outfits without viewing the picture in the poem. Collins even displays the images of the models expression in the poem. a confused mixture of pain and surprise / as if she had stepped on a tack, she is putting about something, / all lower lip and cheekbone. Lastly, when Collins describes how quickly life can pass by he uses phrases like One minute roses are opening in the garden.
And describes the night as black and silky. Imagery in Shoveling Snow with Buddha is evident as well. over the mountain / of his bare, round shoulder. cold mist on our faces. glittering white snow. winter geese barking in the sky, and drive off with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio. All of these phrases make the reader feel as if they are in the middle of winter along with Buddha and the narrator. The reader feels the cold mist, hears the geese barking and the song on the radio and, sees the half naked Buddha tossing the glittering white snow over his shoulder. Collins also adds a sense of home with our boots stand dripping by the door. That phrase familiarizes readers with their own memories of coming back to a warm cozy home from the harsh cold of the winter.
The imagery in I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey’s Version of Three Blind Mice is not as apparent as the other poems but, is still spot able. When Collins refers to the tiny darkness, of the blind mice the reader can sense the tiny dark tunnel the mice live in. Also the reader feels the narrators wet stinging eyes, along with the sound of the mournful trumpet. The reader can as well smell the chopping of the vegetables, such as the parsley and most of all the fumes from the diced onion.
In the poems I Chop Some Parsley While Listening To Art Blakey’s Version Of Three Blind Mice, Victorias Secret, and Shoveling Snow with Buddha the imagery element is astonishing. A reader of these poems not only sees the images in their head, but can also smell, hear, and feel what the characters in the poem can. Collins is so talented that he creates a duplicate world for the reader with his poetic language. He uses this imagery to involve the reader in his poem. Collins likes to call this kind of poetry travel poetry a mental travel from the beginning of the poem to the ending. To be interested in the entire poem, not just one line that sounds good.
Billy Collins says in an interview with John Bush When you convey the tone, youre really conveying the spirit of the poem. Mark Conway describes Collins tone The pokerfaced tone of Collins poems never lets readers be sure if the tone in his poetry is respectful or mocking. (287). On the other hand, many would argue with Conway. Just like most of Collins other poems, a deeper reading can help find the true meaning of the poem. With that meaning the tone is simple to see. In Victorias Secret Collins puts each model in an awkward pose. her mouth is the shape of petulance. a confused mixture of pain and surprise / as if she had stepped on a tack arching one eyebrow slightly and best of all stretched out catlike All of these models look ridiculous.
The tone in this poem is mockery; Collins portrays this by using imagery as well. He paints a picture of the model in the readers head in an absurd poise with a somewhat constipated look on their face. Also, Collins makes the reader feel as if all the models are stuck up and dont want to be looked at. Do you have a problem withthat?! Why do I care, her eyes say, were all going to hell anyway. He shows that the models are stuck up by literally attacking one model by using these phrases in his stanza, she is pouting about something, Perhaps her ice cream has tumbled / out of its cone Perhaps she has been waiting all day / for a new sofa to be delivered, The tone of this poem is very comical and by the end of it the reader sees the models as immature juveniles.
In the poem Shoveling Snow with Buddha the tone is much more respectful. Collins shows his respect for men like Buddha through his literal language. Even the season is wrong for him. This is not implied by his serene expression, Buddha is symbolized as a selfless man who is shoveling a driveway that not even his. Buddha will not stop the job until the goal is reached, Collins is very admiral of this type of behavior. He has thrown himself into shoveling snow / as if it were the purpose of his existence, and he inside his generous pocket of silence, It is evident in the poem that Collins respects Buddha but, with the use of his language he makes the reader respect Buddha. Since Buddha is personified by all the natural good people in the world, the reader appreciates these kind of people much more by the end of the poem.
In the poem I Chop Some Parsley While Listening To Art Blakey’s Version Of Three Blind Mice, the tone is not evident until Collins uses the term cynic. After this word the poem goes from a comical tone to a mournful tone. but the thought of them without eyes / and now without tails to trail through the moist grass, has the cynic who always lounges within me / up off his couch and at the window / trying to hide the rising softness that he feels. From the daydream that Collins put the narrator in, the narrator becomes very sad and mournful for these three blind mice whose tails have been cut off. wet stinging / in my own eyes, is what the narrator has by the end of the poem. Collins use of language in this poem makes the reader feel the same way as the narrator by the end of the poem.
In an interview with Dave Weich, Collins describes his initial tone Usually I try to create a hospitable tone at the beginning of a poem. This makes the poem easy to get into and understand. Then Collins adds a twist and puts in a more complex tone that usually makes the reader feel the same way the narrator in the story feels. The tone in Victorias Secret is very comical and by the end of it the reader sees the models as immature juveniles. The tone in Shoveling Snow with Buddha is respectful and makes the reader respect all selfless people like Buddha. And lastly the tone in I Chop Some Parsley While Listening To Art Blakey’s Version Of Three Blind Mice, is sad and mournful and makes readers have wet stinging eyes just as the narrator at the end of the poem. Collins is very talented at bringing the feeling of his poetry into the readers selves.
Billy Collins is an exceptionally talented poet whose writing at first can be taken to be a simple comedy but when read more carefully, it can be interpreted as a far more complex script. His use of imagery and tone give the readers an interactive movie in their heads when they read his literature. As a college professor, Collins is very talented at making all readers of his poetry understand the meaning and feeling in his poems. Philip Jason describes Collins poetry as suggests why he so often uses humor to lead the reader into a place, often a serious and surprising place, of the poems conclusion. However, Collins poetry cannot be skimmed if the reader wants the true meaning and feeling to be apparent to them. A second and deeper reading is needed to truly feel the poem. Collins poetry is humble and vibrant with language, imagery and, tone and serves as a sample for all American poets.
Bush, John. A Conversation with Billy Collins. http://www.windriverpress.com/critique/collins_b.html. Critique Magazine.
Collins, Billy. Picnic, Lightning. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998.
Conway, Mark. Billy Collins. The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature. Vol. 1. 2006.
Jason, Philip. Critical Survey of Poetry. Vol. 2. California: Salem Press,Inc., 2003. 8 vols.
Lee, Michelle. Poetry Criticism. Vol. 68. New York: Thomas Gale, 2006. 83 vols.
Saunder, Alletha. Interview with Billy Collins. Summer 2006. http://www.uidaho.edu/fugue/billy_collins.htm. Fugue, University of Idaho.
Varnes, Kathrine. An exaltation of forms: contemporary. Michigan: University ofMichigan Press, 2002.
Weich, Dave. Billy Collins, Bringing Poetry to the Public. January 14, 2004. http://www.powells.com/authors/collins.html. Powells.com.
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