Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Art of Drowning by Billy Collins

Hmmm, I am going to keep this short since this is an experimental post. I ordered some of this author's titles, I've only read one, previously, and enjoyed a number of them. I've gotten a third of the way through "Drowning", and had the first one, "Consolation" hit the right spot. The first line of the poem starts out, "How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer." I just got back from almost a week of a visit with my Italian mother-in-law, and was almost desperate for a big glass of ice tea with ice, conveniently mentioned explicitly in S4.

The poem chronicles the discomfort necessary to improve one's catalog of cultural sites assimilated in person, and conversely the easy slide of daily events when in one's own locale. Mr. Collins uses a repetition of phrases to tie the poem into a picture of the joy we take in having our daily rituals without the struggle of fitting into a different culture. They are a series of determined, forceful statements, the lines are mostly short compared with some of the other poems in the book. The energy required in making a trip through a foreign land is directed now towards justifying the reasons why one is better off staying at home.

The sound of "s" seems to be highlighted throughout, and I do not know what purpose it serves, it could give a hissing tone to the piece, but the language, as I said, is to forceful to allow that. Sonically, my favorite strophe is the second. A series of different sounds are showcased, mirroring the succession of trophy sites bagged. I will copy it here for those who might not have read it, or don't remember it.

"There are no abbeys here, no crumbling frescoes or famous
domes and there is no need to memorize a succession
of kings or tour the dripping corners of a dungeon.
No need to stand around a sarcophagus, see Napoleon's
little bed on Elba, or view the bones of a saint under glass."

It was a very accessible poem, an easy trip to the corner diner.
And now, for the uncertain outcome of pressing "PUBLISH POST" for the first time.



  1. I am taking a break from touring Brisbane with my inlaws today to hide in my office, edit a paper, and goof around a little with the poetry. Although Brisbane cannot claim the linguistic or geographic richness of most cities in Italy, I'm finding that it is also an agreeable place not to be touring. You should not come visit me and take a gigantic tour of the zoo and the aquarium today.

    And thank you for drawing my attention to the lovely poem; I enjoy it when people play tricks with negation.

  2. Welcome, Suzanne! Thank you for Billy! I enjoy his work, but am not familiar with this one. I understand he likes to poke fun at traveling to famous places. I just received and read his latest - Horoscopes of the Dead.