Billy Collins and the Push

When I was in High School my creative writing teacher was obsessed with Billy Collins. When I started reading his work, well when she made me start reading his work I realized that many of his poems seem to be grounded in emotional or lived “truth.” Although his poem “Personal History” begins with pre-historic language which no poets can personally write about today, the end of the first stanza introduces the word “us.”

to settle down and become continents,

someone introduced us at a party.

The language in the second stanza follows the language in the first stanza. The second stanza mentions the renaissance and the sonnet. The third stanza continues in this fashion using language and images from before Billy Collins’s time.

We married during the industrial Revolution,

coughing on a brown lawn above a city

humming with fly wheels and drive belts.

The ceremony went like clockwork.

The idea that the couple could have been married during the Industrial Revolution makes this poem seem like it cannot be personal or lived “truth,” but I think that this is just the way that Billy Collins writes. He mentions the war and continues using his language about the past, but in stanza five he uses the work “now,” and the sixth stanza places the couple in the immediate present. Although the images portrayed throughout the poem vary in time, from the creation of the continents to the war, the romantic element remains the same.

The way in which Billy Collins changes the time periods depicted in his scenes to make it seem like he has been with the addressee of the poem forever pushes the work beyond a confession. Collins does not only confess his love to the addressee of the poem, but he makes his love somewhat of a metaphor for the passing of time. I think that it is important for me to push my work beyond what it is now, but I do not think I will ever reach the level of some poets. I rarely write about my everyday life, but if I did I think that it would be rather superficial.


One Response to “Billy Collins and the Push”

  1. It may be the way Billy Collins writes, but I think there’s a lot of respect from my part, when poets utilizing the retrospective-prospective are able to write from something that is lived. But, I agree with your statement that Collins “changes the time periods depicted in his scenes to make it seem like he has been with the addressee of the poem.” This kind of reminds me what we talked about when we were using the “poem audit” to go through all those different techniques in poems and see how we felt about their importance. This reminded me of the historical context combined with intelligence in that, if you’re going to write about a subject, whether you’ve been through the time period or lived through it or whatever, you at least have to be knowledgeable about what happened. I think that Collins does a good job at that, though I think a push could be made further if he had actually lived during the Industrial Revolution and could write from it.

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