The Trouble With Poetry; And Other Poems


The Trouble With Poetry; And Other Poems is a poetry collection by Billy Collins. I started reading this to pass the time while breastfeeding, at my husband’s suggestion. Billy Collins is my husband’s favorite poet.

Confession time: I don’t have a favorite poet. Confession, part two: I’m not really comfortable with poetry at all. I consider myself a writer. I always got great grades in English. I got so good at using different writing styles that I could tell what my English teachers were looking for, and I gave them exactly what they wanted – and when it came to poetry, this meant I could put together something sappy and flowery for my flowery teachers, and something witty and sarcastic (usually about the pointlessness of the assignment) for my saltier teachers. But I don’t think I ever put an ounce of introspection, outerspection, or any other kind of perspection into it. As a result, I’m really good at mocking poetry, and I have absolutely no idea what’s good and what’s not.

So, being a complete amateur, I’m not going to try to review this. I’ll simply say that I liked it, Collins’s approach to poetry feels honest and fresh, and here’s one of my favorite pieces from the collection:

“The Lanyard”

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past –
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift – not the archaic truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.


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