Sinyard 1 Shauna Sinyard Mark Hall, Ph.D.
Assignment 2 1 March 2011 Angels and War: Analyzing Billy Collins
Comment : his poetry or the man himself?
Billy Collins’ poetry plants a seed of understanding into the minds of those who read it. His use of powerful imagery and witty irony forces the reader to think past the surface level and indulge in a world of deeper comprehension. His conversational tone allows the reader to move past the stanzas and interpret the true messages of his poetry. In “Building with Its Face Blown Off,” Collins personifies an apartment that has been bombed out and exposed to the world. He compares the “blue and white striped wallpaper of a second story bedroom” to “wearing only its striped pajamas,” making the readers feel as if the apartment had lost its inherent right to privacy. He also alludes to the bathroom feeling “embarrassed” at its nakedness and untidiness caused by the explosion. This powerful imagery, of the destroyed apartment paired with its personification showcases the fragility of countries plagued by war. It allows us to feel sorry for the building, more so even than feeling sorry for the inhabitants of the apartment; the building is vulnerable, exposed, and raw. In an interview with Michael Meyer, Collins speaks about the inspiration for the poem, saying that although the poem has a blatantly political undertone, he usually shies away from that kind of writing. He says that “before poetry can be political, it must be personal” and that the actual inspiration for
Comment : really? I thought it was more about the absence of humanity/the inhabitants. this may add to the disengaged feeling...its’ almost de-humanized in its’ humanization. Comment : , Comment : which are? but I do like this idea of transcending the words.
Sinyard 2 the poem was a picture in a newspaper of a bombed out house in Baghdad.
Comment : Is this necessary to your argument? interesting tidbit but if you’re going to use it, actually tie it to your central idea.
In the next stanza, the speaker compares the blown out apartment to a stage, with “no characters, no dialogue, no beginning, middle and end.” There are two vital components of theater. First and foremost, theater must be live. In this sense, Collins is correct in comparing the bombed-out apartment to a stage. What is more live than real life? The second component of theater is that there must be an audience, which according to the poem “neighbors and soldiers poke around in the rubble below.” However, without a play to perform, without the performers or the dialogue, this building is merely a reminder of the fragility of life to those who see it. It makes a statement that an entire play could not. In the last two stanzas of the poem, Collins sends a powerful message about ignorance and indifference. The stark contrast between the lovely couple having a picnic, complete with wine, bread, cheese and olives and the raw, exposed building creates a tension for the reader. Here, irony plays a part in eliciting a powerful response in the reader, a disdain for those who are privileged enough to live in a country that doesn’t have daily bombings that destroy entire apartment buildings. In the first stanza of “Questions about Angels,” Billy Collins muses on the mocking question, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” This phrase was used to mock medieval angelology and those who studied it, namely Thomas Aquinas. Contemporarily, the phrase serves a metaphor for wasting time debating topics of no practical value. In this poem, the speaker plays a game with the reader; he challenges us to ask the deeper questions about life, masked by the metaphor of angels. These questions are masked by the imagery and metaphor of
Comment : ok good. but what IS important? and why do humans shirk away from the hard questions? Comment : is it really disdain for them? or for ourselves since we all do this? Comment : yeah! this is an argument! Comment : again de-humanized Comment : good
Sinyard 3 an angel’s daily life. “Do they fly through God’s body and come out singing? Do they swing like children from the hinges of the spirit world saying their names backwards and forwards…What about their sleeping habits, the fabric of their robes, their diet of unfiltered divine light?” The speaker asks the questions that he feels are not traditionally asked. The speaker of the poem implies that their train of thought transcends that of the medieval theologians. In this next stanza, the speaker asks “If an angel delivered the mail/would he arrive in a blinding rush of wings or would he just assume/ the appearance of the regular mailman and/ whistle up the driveway reading the postcards?” In this stanza, the speaker is speaking for the everyday angels of the world, the people who are not ethereal and holy spirits, but those who are just regular men and women, spreading angelic thoughts to the world. The phrase “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” implies that there are billions of angels, all of which can fit in the tiniest bit of space. The speaker of this poem does not like the implication of an infinite amount of angels and uses one simple conjunction to change the thought process of the reader: but. Instead of millions, billions, or an infinite amount of angels, the speaker suggests there is only one: “one female angel dancing alone in her stocking feet, a small jazz combo working in the background.” Here, the musician, who has been playing for the angel forever, is getting tired and restless of entertaining the angel, who has been dancing eternally.
Comment : The past two paragraphs are just summing up the poem. Add some analysis here. Comment : I thought he was just making more fun. But I can see this interpretation. Comment : what do you mean here by transcends? I (maybe incorrectly) thought he was making fun of these questions. Collins kind of adopted a “holier than thou art” tone of superiority perhaps.
In both of these poems, Billy Collins uses an informal kind of diction. He takes on a conversational tone that invites the reader to make a connection with the speaker of the poem. The poetry is relatable and informal. Collins uses sarcasm and satire to highlight or poke fun at
Comment : this is starting to get redundant.
Sinyard 4 certain things he finds to be unfair. In “Building with Its Face Blown Off,” Collins uses the couple at the end of the poem as an allegory to the indifference that people have towards wars in other countries. He forces the reader to feel anger or even personal guilt or remorse for not being more involved with the ways of the world. In “Questions about Angels,” Collins shows a bit of his own personal arrogance. He seems to think of himself as a much deeper thinker than the average person, and that shows with the playful game he plays with the reader. He challenges the reader to transcend traditional thought. Collins uses symbols and metaphors to create a specific kind of imagery in the mind of the reader. In “Building with Its Face Blown Off,” Collins uses the first six stanzas to delicately weave in your mind’s eye the personified building caught in the middle of a war.
Comment : back up with text please! Comment : I read it as just an observation of human behavior. I feel Collins tried to avoid morality. So if you’re going to argue this, back it up! Comment : good.
I know there is more for me to say here. I want to relate the two poems together more, and highlight more of the elements of poetry. I feel like I mostly summarized the poems, which wasn’t my intention. This is definitely a ROUGH draft.
1. What seems to be the central idea—or argument—of the essay? Underline it
and then sum it up in your own words. In what ways do you think this central idea is—or isn’t—based on a careful reading of the literature? a. I think you kind of have one argument per poem; you could probably find an all-encompassing statement but I cannot. “Building..” uses an allegory to reflect people’s indifference to faraway suffering. The ides for “Angels...” is unclear...maybe its’ about Collin’s judgement of thought processes, maybe its’ about superiority, maybe its about angels themselves; regardless the analysis needs work.
Sinyard 5 2. What specific evidence makes the essay persuasive to you? Make at least 2
suggestions for developing the argument further, with additional illustrations or evidence from the literature. YOU NEED MORE TEXTUAL REFERENCES. Rather, you need to interpret the quotations used first, and THEN find some more to back up the central idea you must develop for the second revision. 3. Write a brief outline of the essay. Does it seem logically organized to you, with a clear sense of direction from beginning to end? If so, why? If not, what suggestions can you offer for rearranging? Try to make the comparison a running comparison. Bring the essays together!! Once you develop your argument, the outline will flow logically; especially if you really spend some time thinking about HOW you will argue your central idea.
4. Do you see any material that you think should be deleted? If so, explain
You should add more; especially to the angels section. The last stanza with the lone dancing angels still really haunts me. With such a personal reaction, Collins had to have had some sort of purpose. Delete some of the simple summaries.
Works Cited "How many angels can stand (dance) on the head of a pin?" The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. 28
Sinyard 6 Feb. 2011. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/how many angels can stand (dance) on the head of a pin?>. Meyer, Michael. "A Study of Billy Collins: The Author Reflects on Five Poems." The Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, and Writing. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin's, 2011. Print.