Forgetfulness

I wrote this blog in honor of my cousin, Jed’s 55th birthday. (Happy Birthday, Jed!)

Most of my favorite poems are found on the pages of Billy Collins’s poetry collections. So many of his sentiments and images resonate with me. If I had to chose one poem to share, it would be, “Forgetfulness.” The main reason is that this poem inspired me to rediscover the poet in me who had been dormant since childhood.

This is how it happened. It was 2003 or 2004, and I was in the charter class of Spalding University’s low-residency program, working on my MFA. Our class was invited to a Billy Collins reading at a neighboring university. It was just after Billy completed his term as Poet Laureate of the United States. The university auditorium was packed and Billy read many poignant poems, including “Forgetfulness.”

I vividly remember chuckling to myself throughout his entire reading. It was just about the time of my fiftieth birthday and I was beginning to forget more than I remembered. Billy received a lot of laughs during his reading, but with an audience filled with baby boomers, I think he got the most chuckles while reading this poem. If you have ever heard Billy read, you understand his talent and dry voice. In his poem, “Forgetfulness,” he incorporates his classic teasing technique told in a conversational and accessible manner. His imaging is extremely clever and it continues to resonate with me this many years after that first discovery.

I rarely will choose to spend the time to stand in line for an author signings, but after Billy’s reading, I purchased all his books piled all the way up to my chin and decided to wait for his signature on each one.  I didn’t care how long it took me to reach the front of the line. I knew that his reading would launch the new poet in me and I wanted to avail myself of the opportunity to read the poems of a giant.

You can hear him read on u-tube or you can read it here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrEPJh14mcU

Forgetfulness

The name of the author is the first to go

followed obediently by the title, the plot,

the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel

which suddenly becomes one you have never read,

never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor

decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,

to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye

and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,

and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,

the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,

it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,

not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river

whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,

well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those

who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night

to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.

No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted

out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

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3 Responses to “Forgetfulness”


  1. 1 satia February 16, 2010 at 5:21 am

    Not that this has much to do with anything you wrote but I “remember” working in a bookstore and this woman approached me and said, “I’m looking for a book that takes place in China but it’s not by a Chinese person. The author is a woman!”

    I immediately suggested The Good Earth.

    “No,” she said. “That’s not it.”

    I asked her what it was about. China.
    Did she remember the first or last name of the author? No.
    Title? (Did I really need to ask?) No.

    Hmmm . . . now what?

    Believe it or not, I found the book she wanted–The Lover by Marguerite Duras.

    I’m sure I have other similar stories from that brief time in my life. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten most of them.

  2. 2 Jeannie February 16, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    I am beginning to experience forgetfulness during this time in my life. I feel so sorry for myself and others who experience this. I used to be able to remember hundreds of peoples names and details about them. Now it is a miracle if I can remember lunch by dinner time.

  3. 3 Jed Marquisee February 22, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Hey, I keep “forgetting” to tell you that the poem is great!

    The thing about forgetting is there isn’t really a switch, “like I don’t want to remember that”, that can be used to turn it off or on.

    It would be really cool if you even had a preview mode that would predict how you were going to respond before you made the decison to forget or not forget.

    Unfortunetly, we will just have to get used to forgetting the old-fashionened way that we do now. Wait a minute……what was I talking about?


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"A writer uses a journal to try out the new step in front of the mirror."

~Mary Gordon

About Me


I am a memoirist, essayist, poet and teacher whose passion is keeping a notebook. My notebook is my muse and my alter ego. It contains personal snippets of my life and observations from the world around me. Diarist Anaïs Nin has been a great source of inspiration for me. My hobbies include writing, writing and more writing, but when I have extra time, I enjoy reading, walking, hiking, yoga, working out, cooking and hanging out with my family and Maltese Poodle, Spunky. In order not to become ensconced by the glare of my computer screen, I also teach in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and in various conferences and festivals around the country. My pleasure comes from sharing my joy of journaling with professional writers and anyone interested in writing.

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