The Writer's Almanac, for its daily poems and birthday news. Today's poem is "Forgetfulness," by Billy Collins, and you can read it there, hear it, or both, and it does trace the loss of memory and also, coincidentally, nods to the Supermoon.
At Writer's Almanac, you can read brief stories of the development and careers of these two witty writers. Though Collins hung out with the Beat poets, he is identified now with charming domestic and "suburban" poems and often bashed by contemporary poets who are bored by his "accessibility," a bad word among some poets.
As for me, I enjoy accessible poems as well as less accessible poems, that need more unpacking, as they say, as long as there is something gripping there, something more than a virtuoso display of language or self. As Collins says, "I don't think people read poetry because they're interested in the poet. I think they read poetry because they're interested in themselves." So Collins, writing honestly as himself, addresses a real reader and thus escapes the trap of self.
Mostly pleasant and unaffected in his poems, Collins allows himself some edge and annoyance in Ballistics, as if some of the criticism and negative opinion has gotten to him. And wouldn't you know, this is a book people tend to like less? But I like that he can be as spiteful and petty, in spurts, as the rest of us. And he has a good answer to the charge of accessibility, too:
"I think clarity is the real risk in poetry because you are exposed. You're out in the open field. You're actually saying things that are comprehensible, and it's easy to criticize something you can understand."
And, of course, hard to criticize something you can't understand. So it tends not to get criticized. That, or meaning itself is given up by critics and poets alike, something else elevated in its stead.
Sondheim not only means, he rhymes! And does so with great sophistication and cleverness in songs that revolutionized musical comedy, using while twisting the prevailing conventions.
I wish I could say the two-pound weights were pertinent. They are not to suggest either writer is a lightweight. Nor to suggest that I am using 2-pound weights in my exercise class. I have shifted to 3-pound weights. Do you think that will make me a more muscular writer?
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