Cabano 1 Kevin Cabano Mr.

Damaso Honors English II, Period 2 3 May 2010 Billy Collins - Visual Wizard ´Picture yourself in a boat on a river / With tangerine trees and marmalade skies / somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly / A girl with kaleidoscope eyesµ From ´Lucy in the Sky with Diamondsµ by The Beatles Many forms of creative expression have an important focus on detail. Human beings enjoy the stimulation of the brain and senses (often with a multitude of images, thoughts, and feelings), which is something that creative detail can deliver. For example, forms of artwork and literature such as paintings, sculptures, music, poetry, et al. use vivid detail in the composition to give a colorful (sometimes literally!) mental experience to the viewer. Many painters and other visual artists often utilize color, shading, and depth, to name a few, to create detailed pieces of art containing the most visual information that can be fit into the painting. Songs use mood, texture, and different instruments in conjunction with the lyrics to convey images and feelings relating to the song, and poetry uses figurative language and description to paint a picture in the reader·s mind.

Cabano 2 An example of a poet whose work paints a picture like this is American poet Billy Collins. According to his biography on, Billy Collins began releasing his poetry in the 1970s, although his most praised and popular works were published in the 1990s (par. 1). He was chosen as the Poet Laureate for the United States in 2001 (par. 3) and also is in charge of a poetry program for schools called Poetry 180 (par. 5). This essay will focus primarily on three of Collins·s works: ´The Afterlife,µ ´Marginalia,µ and ´Thesaurus.µ In these poems, Billy Collins uses detail and figurative language to paint vivid pictures of his poetry in the reader·s mind. Collins is lucky in that he has gotten to enjoy his fame without becoming ´too famous,µ that is, he doesn·t have paparazzi following him or constant, annoying media attention. He has lived a fairly ordinary life punctuated with the success of his poetry. According to the Poetry Foundation, Collins was born in 1941 in New York, New York (par. 2). He received a BA from College of the Holy Cross and then went on to achieve both an MA and a PhD from the University of California-Riverside (par. 2). In 2001 he was selected Poet Laureate of the United States, and he served until 2003 (par. 1). Since 1971, Collins has been a professor of English at Lehman College of the City University of New York. Additionally he is Sarah Lawrence College·s writer-inresidence (par. 6). Collins writes in a style that is rather laid-back and easy to read, appealing to the average person as well as to avid poetry readers and fans (par. 1). A typical Billy Collins poem is written in a style very close to that of ordinary

Cabano 3 prose writing. Rhyme is nearly nonexistent in his works, and meter is never consistent, and sometimes is not even present at all. In an interview with Grace Cavalieri, producer and host of the radio show ´The Poet and the Poem,µ Billy Collins explains that he writes his poems directly to one single person, not to a general audience (par. 73). A single, unknown person is in mind. Says Collins: The poems I write are basically for one person. I don't know who the person is, but I have an idea of speaking or whispering these poems to one listener, and I hope I'm aiming for a very intimate connection. (par. 73) His poems· subjects are generally ordinary, everyday things or situations in the lives of people. Sometimes this is extremely literal. For example, one of Collins·s poems is entitled ´I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey's Version of 'Three Blind Mice.·µ (´The Afterlifeµ 48). Talk about obvious! No hidden meaning or analogy here! Right off the bat that poem tells you what it·s about. Billy Collins describes his childhood as happy (´A Brisk Walk,µ par. 2), and perhaps this contributed to the fact that his poems are loose, carefree, and rarely negative. The happy childhood could have influenced his life in making him a person who is not pessimistic, and this is reflected in his poems. Being born as early as he was and still being alive today, Billy Collins has lived through a myriad of important times and events in our nation and world. For example, Collins has been around every war since World War II (he was born just months before the United States entered WWII in 1941). Any sort of important national conflict, sporting event, artistic release, ANYTHING that has

Cabano 4 occurred since that time has been experienced by Billy Collins. He was there for it all. Let·s take, for example, the time right after World War II had ended in 1945. For the past 15 years our nation had experienced economic depression that was only fixed due to the total war of World War II that ensued nearly immediately after its conclusion. When the war was finally over, the economy began to boom. This can be partially attributed to the ´Baby Boom.µ The population growth caused by more births stimulated the economy because demand for food, clothing, toys, and other child-related items shot up, causing consumers to pour money into the economy (´Baby Boom,µ par. 3). People were happy again and the country was thriving. These good times after World War II overlap directly with Billy Collins·s childhood ² indeed, he did describe it as happy, which connects as mentioned above. Billy Collins uses detail and figurative language to paint vivid pictures of his poems in the reader·s mind. His happy childhood is quite possibly a factor in the laid-back, ordinary subject matter. Collins effectively uses this type of subject as a canvas for him to paint these mental pictures upon. Here I will analyze ´The Afterlife,µ ´Marginalia,µ and ´Thesaurus.µ Each of these poems exemplifies the earlier-mentioned usage of figurative language and detail to create strong mental images in the reader·s mind. ´The Afterlifeµ is about everyone going to the afterlife of their fantasies after death. ´Marginaliaµ and ´Thesaurusµ deal with words: margin notes and words in a thesaurus, respectively. Individuals from poetry organizations, magazines, programs, etc. are common amongst Billy Collins·s literary critics.

Cabano 5 ´The Afterlifeµ uses simile, metaphor, and vivid, picturesque imagery to convey the images of the poem. A few examples: Some are being shot up a funnel of flashing colors Into a zone of light, white as January sun... Some are being shot up a funnel of flashing colors Into a zone of light, white as January sun. (´The Afterlife, lines 1011, 19-20) Whatever the afterlife contains is something no one has ever seen, and therefore Collins has to create the images himself to visualize the unknown. These literary devices he uses are for the maximum descriptive effect. Another example of Billy Collins giving imagery and descriptions to unconventional things can be found in his poem ´Marginalia.µ In ´Marginalia,µ Billy Collins uses metaphor and personification to bring life to something as mundane as notes the margins of books. Many of the connections are quite unusual and interesting. These excerpts give some examples of this: Sometimes the notes are ferocious, skirmishes against the author... my thumb as a bookmark... Students are more modest needing to leave only their splayed footprints along the shore of the page. (´Marginalia, lines 1-2, 13, 17-18)

Cabano 6 I personally find the lines about ´splayed footprintsµ really interesting. It uses metaphor, relating the notes as ´footprintsµ along the ´shore of the page.µ That·s quite creative! Because it also deals with words, Billy Collins·s poem ´Thesaurusµ contains some similar-type comparisons and descriptions. In the poem ´Thesaurus,µ a key feature is the use of an extended metaphor for a large portion of this poem. It relates the words in the thesaurus to a family at a reunion in a park: It means treasury, but it is just a place where words congregate with their relatives, a big park where hundreds of family reunions are always being held, house, home, abode, dwelling, lodgings, and digs, all sharing the same picnic basket and thermos; hairy, hirsute, woolly, furry, fleecy, and shaggy all running a sack race or throwing horseshoes, inert, static, motionless, fixed and immobile standing and kneeling in rows for a group photograph. (´Thesaurusµ lines 5-14) The words are given personalities and lives by the word choice Collins employs, allowing the reader to almost see what is going on. A great visual example of this sort of detail and imagery can be found in Walt Disney·s Alice in Wonderland, released in 1951 (Appendix F). The visual details, vibrant colors, and bizarre images throughout the film provide a very

Cabano 7 intense visual experience. In fact, there was controversy surrounding the film as some people claimed that drugs such as LSD were used to ´assistµ the creation of the film due to the film·s ´trippyµ visuals. This film was based off of a book by Lewis Carroll entitled Alice·s Adventures in Wonderland, which was published years earlier. This children·s story follows the journey of a young girl named Alice through Wonderland, a place she enters after falling down a rabbit hole. Through her many adventures she must escape, and the film ends with Alice seeing her sleeping self, realizing it was all a dream. Throughout the film, many visual metaphors and alternate meanings are used, and the detail and ´crazinessµ is vivid and bright. An example is a bird that, instead of a torso, has a large bird cage with a small bird inside of it. This could be a play on ´rib cage,µ the part of the body that normally exists in much of that area. This film was released when Collins was a child, and because it is regarded as a ´classicµ film, there is a good chance that a young Billy Collins watched this film. Perhaps what he saw in it had an influence on him as far as description and detail goes. It is yet another childhood experience that could, even if subconsciously, form your adult life and thought processes. [GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT ARTWORK #2] [LITERARY THREAD CONNECTION FOR ARTWORK #2] Billy Collins·s use of detail and description is something shared throughout his poetry, other poetry, and artwork throughout his life and our life today. All of these utilize description, figurative language, comparisons, and

Cabano 8 humor to create a vivid mental scene of what is happening in it. The human being·s desire for sensory overload is fulfilled in this. <-Conclusion unfinished

Cabano 9 Appendix A

THE AFTERLIFE. Billy Collins. 1991.

While you are preparing for sleep, brushing your teeth, or riffling through a magazine in bed, the dead of the day are setting out on their journey.

They are moving off in all imaginable directions,

according to his own private belief,

and this is the secret that silent Lazarus would not reveal: that everyone is right, as it turns out. You go to the place you always thought you would go, the place you kept lit in an alcove in your head.


are being shot up a funnel of flashing colors

into a zone of light, white as January sun. Others are standing naked before a forbidding judge who sits with a golden ladder on one side, a coal chute on the other.

Some have already joined the celestial choir

are singing as if they have been doing this forever,

while the less inventive find themselves stuck

Cabano 10 in a big air-conditioned room full of food and chorus girls.

Some are approaching the apartment of the female God, a woman in her forties with short wiry hair

glasses hanging from her neck by a string.

With one eye she regards the dead through a hole in her door.

There are those who are squeezing into the bodies of animals³eagles and leopards³and one trying on the skin of a monkey like a tight suit,

to begin another life in a more simple key,

while others float off into some benign vagueness, little units of energy heading for the ultimate elsewhere.

There are even a few classicists being led to an underworld by a mythological creature with a beard and hooves.

will bring them to the mouth of a furious cave

guarded over by Edith Hamilton and her three-headed dog.

The rest just lie on their backs in their coffins wishing they could return so they could learn Italian or see the pyramids, or play some golf in a light rain.

Cabano 11

wish they could wake in the morning like you

and stand at a window examining the winter trees, every branch traced with the ghost writing of snow.

Cabano 12 Appendix B

MARGINALIA. Billy Collins. 1998. Sometimes the notes are ferocious, skirmishes against the author raging along the borders of every page in tiny black script.

I could just get my hands on you,

Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien, they seem to say, I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive 10"Nonsense."

"Please!" "HA!!" -

that kind of thing. I remember once looking up from my reading, my thumb as a bookmark, trying to imagine what the person must look like

wrote "Don't be a ninny"

alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest needing to leave only their splayed footprints

Cabano 13 along the shore of the page.

scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.

Another notes the presence of "Irony" fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers, Hands cupped around their mouths.

they shout

to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin. "Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!" Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points rain down along the sidelines.


if you have managed to graduate from college

without ever having written "Man vs. Nature" in a margin, perhaps now is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own

reached for a pen if only to show

we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages; we pressed a thought into the wayside, planted an impression along the verge.

Cabano 14

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria

along the borders of the Gospels

brief asides about the pains of copying, a bird signing near their window, or the sunlight that illuminated their pageanonymous men catching a ride into the future

a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds, they say, until you have read him enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,

one that dangles from me like a locket,

was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye I borrowed from the local library one slow, hot summer. I was just beginning high school then,

books on a davenport in my parents' living room,

and I cannot tell you how vastly my loneliness was deepened, how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,

Cabano 15 when I found on one page


few greasy looking smears

and next to them, written in soft pencilby a beautiful girl, I could tell, whom I would never meet"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

Cabano 16 Appendix C THESAURUS. Billy Collins. 1997. It could be the name of a prehistoric beast that roamed the Paleozoic earth, rising up on its hind legs to show off its large vocabulary, or some lover in a myth who is metamorphosed into a book.


means treasury, but it is just a place

where words congregate with their relatives, a big park where hundreds of family reunions are always being held, house, home, abode, dwelling, lodgings, and digs,

sharing the same picnic basket and thermos;

hairy, hirsute, woolly, furry, fleecy, and shaggy all running a sack race or throwing horseshoes, inert, static, motionless, fixed and immobile standing and kneeling in rows for a group photograph.


father is next to sire and brother close

to sibling, separated only by fine shades of meaning. And every group has its odd cousin, the one who traveled the farthest to be here: astereognosis, polydipsia, or some eleven

Cabano 17

unpronounceable substitute for the word tool.

Even their own relatives have to squint at their name tags.

I can see my own copy up on a high shelf. I rarely open it, because I know there is no

thing as a synonym and because I get nervous

around people who always assemble with their own kind, forming clubs and nailing signs to closed front doors while others huddle alone in the dark streets.

I would rather see words out on their own, away

their families and the warehouse of Roget,

wandering the world where they sometimes fall in love with a completely different word. Surely, you have seen pairs of them standing forever next to each other on the same line inside a poem,

small chapel where weddings like these,

between perfect strangers, can take place

Cabano 18 Appendix D
Could not figure out how to put in my markup.

Cabano 19 Appendix E
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Cabano 20 Appendix F Alice in Wonderland. Walt Disney, 1951

Cabano 21 Appendix G
Still cannot find 2nd art connection.

Cabano 22 Appendix H ´Embraceµ by Billy Collins You know the parlor trick. wrap your arms around your own body and from the back it looks like someone is embracing you her hands grasping your shirt her fingernails teasing your neck from the front it is another story you never looked so alone your crossed elbows and screwy grin you could be waiting for a tailor to fit you with a straight jacket one that would hold you really tight. ´Cell Phoneµ by Kevin Cabano After Billy Collins I·ve done it, and I·m sure you have too If you·re being ignored you take your cell And pretend to text, making it look like You are popular, conversing with someone Your faces displays emotions, that aren·t true That are in response to these fake messages Maybe you pretend to speak To someone who isn·t really there And you might think you look fine But inside you know there is emptiness But if you are in the wrong place, someone notices And can see that you are just a sad lie Alone and with no one to care for you Waiting on the day that never comes

Cabano 23 Works Cited
Have not yet compiled this. I have the sources but still need to bring them all together here.