Workshop

Billy Collins

 
I might as well begin by saying how much I like the title.
It gets me right away because Iím in a workshop now
so immediately the poem has my attention,
like the Ancient Mariner grabbing me by the sleeve.
And I like the first couple of stanzas,
the way they establish this mode of self-pointing
that runs through the whole poem
and tells us that words are food thrown down
on the ground for other words to eat.
I can almost taste the tail of the snake
in its own mouth,
if you know what I mean.
But what Iím not sure about is the voice,
which sounds in places very casual, very blue jeans,
but other times seems standoffish,
professorial in the worst sense of the word
like the poem is blowing pipe smoke in my face.
But maybe thatís just what it wants to do.
What I did find engaging were the middle stanzas,
especially the fourth one.
I like the image of clouds flying like lozenges
which gives me a very clear picture.
And I really like how this drawbridge operator
just appears out of the blue
with his feet up on the iron railing
and his fishing pole jiggingóI like jiggingó
a hook in the slow industrial canal below.
I love slow industrial canal below. All those lís.
Maybe itís just me,
but the next stanza is where I start to have a problem.
I mean how can the evening bump into the stars?
And whatís an obbligato of snow?
Also, I roam the decaffeinated streets.
At that point Iím lost. I need help.
The other thing that throws me off,
and maybe this is just me,
is the way the scene keeps shifting around.
First, weíre in this big aerodrome
and the speaker is inspecting a row of dirigibles,
which makes me think this could be a dream.
Then he takes us into his garden,
the part with the dahlias and the coiling hose,
though thatís nice, the coiling hose,
but then Iím not sure where weíre supposed to be.
The rain and the mint green light,
that makes it feel outdoors, but what about this wallpaper?
Or is it a kind of indoor cemetery?
Thereís something about death going on here.
In fact, I start to wonder if what we have here
is really two poems, or three, or four,
or possibly none.
But then thereís that last stanza, my favorite.
This is where the poem wins me back,
especially the lines spoken in the voice of the mouse.
I mean weíve all seen these images in cartoons before,
but I still love the details he uses
when heís describing where he lives.
The perfect little arch of an entrance in the baseboard,
the bed made out of a curled-back sardine can,
the spool of thread for a table.
I start thinking about how hard the mouse had to work
night after night collecting all these things
while the people in the house were fast asleep,
and that gives me a very strong feeling,
a very powerful sense of something.
But I donít know if anyone else was feeling that.
Maybe that was just me.
Maybe thatís just the way I read it.
 
"Workshop" from The Art of Drowning, by Billy Collins, © 1995. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Poems by This Author

Fishing on the Susquehanna in July by Billy Collins
I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna
Forgetfulness by Billy Collins
The name of the author is the first to go
Some Days by Billy Collins
Some days I put the people in their places at the table
The First Night by Billy Collins
Before I opened you, Jimťnez
The Golden Years by Billy Collins
All I do these drawn-out days


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