Apr 9, 2009

National Poetry Month: Nostalgia

It's National Poetry Month. Today I'd love to share another Billy Collins poem.
And if you can imagine his dry deadpan Steven Wright delivery, it's even better.

Nostalgia - Billy Collins

Remember the 1340's? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called "Find the Cow."
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.

Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent a badly broken code.

The 1790's will never come again. Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.

I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.

Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.

As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.

You can find more Billy Collins poetry at http://www.billy-collins.com/


summer girl said...

I love Steven Wright and I love Billy Collins. While Billy gives a straight reading of his poems (they work so well that way!), I do not see that his reading is Steven Wright-like.

I also disagree with those who say Billy sounds like Kevin Spacey (or even looks like him; Spacey has a meatier face, for sure, lacks the refinement of Collins's nose, lacks Collins's amazing profile, and lacks Collins's green eyes).

And finally, Billy Collins doesn't sound like Nicolas Cage, either, although he's been compared to him. (Billy does do a wicked Nic Cage impression, however!)

Susan Isaacs said...

Collins is only Steven wright in that he's so understated in his delivery. Never heard of him compared to Nic Cage or spacey, but I'd love to see Billy do a Nic Cage impersonation! :)

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