Posts Tagged ‘Billy Collins Downpour’

Rachel Hadas is the first poet in this issue, one of our current masters of the formal poem. “Love And Dread” is constructed in a series of deft couplets, beginning, “A desiccated daffodil. / A pigeon cooing on the sill. / The old cat lives on love and water.” How do these things relate to the title? Do we dread the daffodil shrinking to a desiccated state? The reader may not get that at first (or at least, I didn’t), deferring understanding for the moment. Sure enough, we are rewarded with more clarity a few lines onward: “The fulcrum is our life on earth, / beginning, ending in a bed. / We have to marry love and dread.” For a time the poem settles into a call and response, what we love and what we dread, including references to the larger world around us: “The daily drumbeat of the lie, / steady—no, crescendoing.” The reader is rocked back and forth, until what we love and what we dread become intermingled, and confused. The poem lies in the flux between the two, the tension, the uncertainty. We love life, we dread death, though this is never stated explicitly. A powerful poem.

Billy Collins authored the second poem, “Downpour,” which touches on the similar, even resonant theme of death amidst the little details of life. It begins, “Last night we ended up on the couch / trying to remember / all of the friends who had died so far.” Collins so often deals in such plain language, and deceptively simple speech. This allows the reader to embrace the poem directly. The narrator’s contemplativeness goes on to the next day, when “I wrote them down / in alphabetical order / on the flip side of a shopping list.” It is the tension between the quotidian and profound, juxtaposing grief and loss with the immediacy of life, that strikes us. “I was on the lookout for blueberries, / English muffins, linguini.” We are discovering connections, some quite rueful:
“I stopped to realize… / that I had forgotten Terry O’Shea / as well as the bananas.” It’s like a finely woven blanket, the weave shuttling back and forth between poles, until we see how these things are related, and feel it even more than see it. As often happens with Collins, he leaves the poem suddenly, almost dropping the theme without closure. It is only in the silence after reading that the poem reaches conclusion, and we can say yes, this is how it should be.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My book of poems, Against The Night, a wry look at a love that builds through a long marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

The Missouri Review – Summer 2019

Iconoclast – Issue #118

The New Yorker – Aug 19, 19


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