3rd ANNUAL NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: DAY 19 :: CASEY SCOTT LEACH ON BILLY COLLINS
The morning I noticed a Billy Collins poem on the subway train, a part of the Poetry In Motion series, I was overcome with joy. “Hell yes!” I thought to myself, “a poet I know and love!” It was white ink printed on a beautiful sea-foam green background. The poem’s title was “Grand Central”. “Even better!” I thought, “A poem from a poet I know and love about this crazy fucking city I live in! What a great way to start my day.” About twenty seconds later, or however long it took me to finish reading the poem, my heart had sunk. It was a dud. Such a dud. Pure duddery. Not only was it the first bad Poetry in Motion poem I had read (because on the whole I think they have a pretty discerning taste), but it was also the first bad Billy Collins poem I had ever read. I donʼt remember much more about that day, but my bank statement reports that I spent about 37 dollars on alcohol, 4 dollars on pizza, and 7 dollars and 27 cents on a Shake Shack shake. Coincidence? …Probably.
Billy Collinsʼs work (excluding the previously mentioned dud) is beautiful. Before I even begin, Iʼd like to mention how impressed I am that he goes by Billy. ʻBillyʼ I think implies a sense of mischievousness, optimism, and youthful charm. He didnʼt decide to go by William, a strong and safe name for a poet (Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Blake, etc.) He didnʼt even decide to go by Bill, the more contemporary, well-shaved version of William. He chose to go by Billy, and that takes cajones.
Hats off to you, Billy.
Now, his work. What I love most is that the work is simple. It is modest. This is a poet who writes about the pedestrian objects and events of his life and our lives: a dog barking at 3 in the morning, or a conversation with a friend in a car, or sitting at his kitchen table writing. Usually he describes the scene with a touch of humor, light and almost insignificant, but then he will turn the corner and open up the window of living, and then he collects all the air in your lungs and you ask yourself “How the hell did he do that? How in the hell was I just looking at a glass of water and now seeing the miracle of existence?” as he does so wonderfully in “The Order of the Day”:
The Order of the Day
A morning after a week of rain
and the sun shot down through the branches
into the tall, bare windows.
The brindled cat rolled over on his back,
and I could hear you in the kitchen
grinding coffee beans into a powder.
Everything seemed especially vivid
because I knew we were all going to die,
first the cat, then you, then me,
then somewhat later the liquified sun
was the order I was envisioning.
But then again, you never really know.
The cat had a fiercely healthy look,
his coat so bristling and electric
I wondered what you had been feeding him
and what you had been feeding me
as I turned a corner
and beheld you out there on the sunny deck
lost in exercise, running in place,
knees lifted high, skin glistening –
and that toothy, immortal-looking smile of yours.
I love his simplicity, that he isnʼt trying to bamboozle me with language and he isnʼt trying to impress me with his skill. He is light on his feet and silly, and, very skillfully, able to do what many other poets try to do with much more complexity; he allows you to see the architecture of the world again. He rubs the understanding off of his subjects, whether it is his dog or his house or the poem you are literally reading, and enables you to experience the mystery of those things again. He inspires me to be plain and to write about the everyday things in my life and to find, once again, how unordinary and beautiful those things actually are.
Last night I sat on my bathtub
clipping my toenails, listening
to the sounds of the passing cars,
and watching my cat watch me.
My cat, his name is MacIntosh,
observes with green eyes, soft as avocados,
my feet hanging over the porcelain
basin of the toilet. He watches
with paws folded, tail flicking.
Each time I trim a toenail down
I flinch, but he does not. How odd
it must be to him, me cutting my nails;
My curved claws, my very own
talons shining in the light. How odd that
I revoke my certificate to the mountains
and the sky with each percussive clip.
When I stand I turn off the light,
equip my union suit, and slink to bed
beside my love, whose exposed back
and untamed hair, still wet from the shower,
makes my breath burn, my feathers stand erect,
my chest puff out: my back crests,
my mane bristles,
and then there is only groans,
sighs, yips, howling,
and the rapid beating of wings.
[textwrap_image align=”left”]http://www.theoperatingsystem.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/n1125900060_30072816_8311-e1397836520747.jpg[/textwrap_image]Casey Scott Leach is a ginger. He is at times loud, and at other times he is silent. He came from the Midwest and now resides in New York, making meaning and art with those he loves. Casey is a firm believer in the power of ‘and’; he is a poet and an actor and a musician. He can be oblivious, but who isn’t at times? He likes to share his work at caseyscottleach.tumblr.com, and would like it very much if you visited him there.