Friday, March 3, 2017

Billy Collins on How to Live Your Poem

Thanks to one Heidi Mordhorst, we are celebrating Billy Collins' 76th birthday (March 22) today. Be sure to visit Heidi at my juicy little universe for Roundup. Happy Poetry Friday, everyone... and to you, Billy! We actually met oh about ten years ago... remember?

Oh, before we get to Billy, I need to let everyone know that I will be posting the signup for our annual Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem next Friday, March 10. It's first-come, first-serve... I hope you'll join us in the collaborative fun!

An interviewer asked me recently, "What does it mean, to "live your poem?" I wish I'd thought to share this poem by Billy Collins, which shows us several ways to live a poem.

Japan by Billy Collins

Today I pass the time reading
a favorite haiku,
saying the few words over and over.

It feels like eating
the same small, perfect grape
again and again

I walk through the house reciting it
and leave its letters falling
through the air of every room.

I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.

I listen to myself saying it,
then I say it without listening,
then I hear it without saying it.

And when the dog looks up at me,
I kneel down on the floor
and whisper it into each of his long white ears.

It’s the one about the one-ton
temple bell
with the moth sleeping on the surface,

and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
pressure of the moth
on the surface of the iron bell.

When I say it at the window,
the bell is the world
and I am the moth resting there.

When I say it into the mirror,
I am the heavy bell
and the moth is life with its papery wings.

And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
you are the bell,
and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,

and the moth has flown
from its line
and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.'
---------------------- And for the curious (like me!), here is the aforementioned "favorite" haiku:

On the one ton temple bell

a moon-moth, folded into sleep,
sits still.

- Yosa Buson


  1. like eating the same, small perfect grape....saying it hearing it, tasting it, ringing it.
    Lovely and you reading it
    Lovlier still.

  2. OH, thank you for the surprise!!! I was wondering about the haiku and was going to look it up, but no... you included it! Sweet! I love both. I can see why the haiku was so intriguing to him and he spoke it in so many ways. Thanks for sharing another gem!

  3. Wow, I've read that poem before but I really appreciated it this morning. Billy's poem complements the haiku itself so well. xo

  4. I receive Issa's haiku each morning, & feel like I do a little of what Billy Collins describes, at least thinking in my head. This is new to me, Irene. What a wonder of a writer he is! Thanks, Irene.

  5. HOW did I not know this poem? Thank you for remedying that, my gracious, live-your-poem friend. Thanks for all you do!
    "And when the dog looks up at me,
    I kneel down on the floor
    and whisper it into each of his long white ears." - perfection.

  6. Collins' sums up so beautifully the way that a favourite poem can linger with you and burrow its way into your heart.

  7. Beautiful reading of a beautiful poem! Exquisitely written and a perfect illustration of how to live a poem. Thank you!

  8. I love the way he writes about reading.

  9. That is, indeed, living a poem... I might go so far as to say breathing, eating, and sleeping a poem, too! And then you, ringing that poem in such a beautiful way on SoundCloud. Love. xo

  10. Oh! Appreciations.
    I got that zing at Billy Collins' line:

    "and I hear it without saying it. . . "

    It is quiet in the house & I am without earphones
    so I expect to return
    later to listen to you, dear Irene.

    Fun, to anticipate how the collaborative poem
    progressively meanders this year!

  11. Yes, Irene, the perfect poem impersonation for living one's poem! And thanks for digging up that very sticky-to-Collins and delicious haiku that inspired his poem.

  12. I keep running across Collins poems that are either new or unremembered. This has been such a fun PF!

  13. Thanks for Billy Collins, "Japan" wonderful poem! And I love the haiku that inspired it.

  14. Oh boy oh boy oh boy--perfection. In itself, as mindfulness, as writing lessong, as an answer to how to live your poem, as BC's most erotic poem! Thanks for this, Irene. And your recording took me deeper than I meant to go in re-investigating ASMR....

  15. I love his way of living the poem. His voice is the bell, and I am the moth. Perhaps we are sister-moths, Irene.

  16. Oh to be this in love with words:
    I walk through the house reciting it
    and leave its letters falling
    through the air of every room
    - such romancing of verse.


Your thoughts?