Monday, March 20, 2006

Sheep, the Bible, and the Poetry of Pith

Billy Collins’ poems tend to be short, which is part of what makes him “accessible.” I’d like to mock the people that don’t have the fortitude to stroll through a ninety-eight page ode on the decline of civilization as mirrored in the cheapening of toilet paper quality throughout the 20th century, but then again I’m the guy that looked at PARADISE LOST and thought, “Crap, it’s all in poetry. How am I ever going to get through all that?”

So I enjoy that Billy Collins’ poems are pithy (pithy, by the way, means “short, succinct.” Which is why all those safari guides in those oldy time photos wearing pithy helmets all look short.) It also doesn’t hurt that the guy doesn’t feel stuffy. Sample line from “The Long Day”:

And why does z, which looks like
the fastest letter, come at the very end?
unless they are all moving east
when we are facing north in our chairs.

Hee hee. Okay, so I’m liking some of his poetry stuff. Some are still kind of “eh” to me, but for a populist reader like me, I think the batting average is pretty high.

My favorite is below, which I first heard on Prairie Home Companion. You can listen to Mr. Collins recite it himself by following that PHC link. You can also stroll to the bookstore or library and pick up THE TROUBLE WITH POETRY AND OTHER POEMS, and read it. (Along with another favorite, “Special Glasses,” a mournful piece about a pair of specs that allows one to see everything except the ex-girlfriend. A funny-mournful idea, sort of the way SCRUBS can get amusing-sad, but in two pages rather than 22 minutes.)

Anywho, I give you “Flock” by Billy Collins, in its entirety.


"It has been calculated that each copy of the Gutenberg Bible...required the skins of 300 sheep." -from an article on printing

I can see them squeezed into the holding pen
behind the stone building
where the printing press is housed,

all of them squirming around
to find a little room
and looking so much alike

it would be nearly impossible
to count them,
and there is no telling

which one will carry the news
that the Lord is a shepherd,
one of the few things they already know.

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