Saturday, March 22, 2014

Happy birthday to Billy Collins

"We seem to always know where we are in a Billy Collins poem, but not necessarily where he is going. I love to arrive with him at his arrivals. He doesn't hide things from us, as I think lesser poets do. He allows us to overhear, clearly, what he himself has discovered."
~ Stephen Dunn

Billy Collins has become one of my favorite poets ever since I read his poem "The Death of the Hat," which reminded me of my dad in all the good ways.
by Billy Collins
Once every man wore a hat.
In the ashen newsreels,
the avenues of cities
are broad rivers flowing with hats.
The ballparks swelled
with thousands of strawhats,
brims and bands,
rows of men smoking
and cheering in shirtsleeves.
Hats were the law.
They went without saying.
You noticed a man without a hat in a crowd.
You bought them from Adams or Dobbs
who branded your initials in gold
on the inside band.
Trolleys crisscrossed the city.
Steamships sailed in and out of the harbor.
Men with hats gathered on the docks.
There was a person to block your hat
and a hatcheck girl to mind it
while you had a drink
or ate a steak with peas and a baked potato.
In your office stood a hat rack.
The day the war was declared
everyone in the street was wearing a hat
and they were wearing hats
when a ship loaded with men sank in the icy sea.
My father wore one to work every day
and returned home
carrying the evening paper,
the winter chill radiating from his overcoat.
But today we go bareheaded
into the winter streets,
stand hatless on frozen platforms.
Today the mailboxes on the roadside
and the spruce trees behind the house
wear cold white hats of snow.
Mice scurry from the stone walls at night
in their thin fur hats
to eat the birdseed that has spilled.
And now my father, after a life of work,
wears a hat of earth,
and on top of that,
A lighter one of cloud and sky--a hat of wind.

I've seen him read a few times now, and each time I've liked him more. But today I came across this video and I wanted to share it with you. He collaborated with Sundance a couple of years ago to create animations of several poems. They're surprisingly wonderful.

But stick around for the final poem, "To My Favorite 17-Year-Old High School Girl," which will bring a smile to the face of anyone who's ever had a teenager in the house.

Learn more about Billy Collins and read his poems here:

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014 at Last

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you enjoy it, wherever you choose to spend it.

My gifts to you this evening are a poem by W. S. Merwin and some vintage cards from the New York Public Library's digital archive.

To the New Year
By W. S. Merwin

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible



Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ring the Bells

“Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.” 
― Charles M. Schulz

On Christmas Eve I spent some time browsing through the New York Public Library's extensive digital archive of vintage holiday cards. Although I'm not a believer, I have many great memories of childhood Christmases. What I learned: In the early 1900s, bells and holly were common themes and the red and green "Christmas colors" were not yet set in stone. Cards came in blues, yellows, pinks — every imaginable color, really.

While you look at a few cards I liked, listen to Cat Power's version of my favorite Christmas song. It's about hope in a time of uncertainty, and the older I get the more I understand that this is our constant state.

Now, to the cards. Here's one I think of as the Rocking Horse Loser. Did I mention that many of the children depicted on old cards looked peculiar?

Here is a tinted photographic card. It's a bit like the family photo cards people send out these days...but off in an entertainingly wacky way.

This is my favorite of the cards I found (admittedly, there are over 1,500 more that I never got to). I love the way Santa, the children and the dog are piled into the little bedecked roadster — steering wheel on the right — and the little boy in what could be a bellhop's uniform is waving. The sender addressed it on Christmas Eve, 1906, but I can't quite make out the signature.

I'll leave you with the exquisite, haunting final paragraph of James Joyce's "The Dead," which begins at a holiday party and ends in eternity.
"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."