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:
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.