10 April 2008

The Poets are at their Windows

This is my favorite poem from the Billy Collins reading at BYU the other month. His description of the "hard work" of writing is extremely true: if only those cooks and clerks understood how hard staring out windows is! I'm not sure of the stanza spacing of this poem, since as I said, I hear it aloud, and I'm copying the text from Amazon's product description. Oh well. Enjoy it anyway.


The birds are in their trees,
the toast is in the toaster,
and the poets are at their windows.
They are at their windows
in every section of the tangerine of earth-
the Chinese poets looking up at the moon,
the American poets gazing out
at the pink and blue ribbons of sunrise.
The clerks are at their desks,
the miners are down in their mines,
and the poets are looking out their windows
maybe with a cigarette, a cup of tea,
and maybe a flannel shirt or bathrobe is involved.
The proofreaders are playing the ping-pong
game of proofreading,
glancing back and forth from page to page,
the chefs are dicing celery and potatoes,
and the poets are at their windows
because it is their job for which
they are paid nothing every Friday afternoon.
Which window it hardly seems to matter
though many have a favorite,
for there is always something to see-
a bird grasping a thin branch,
the headlights of a taxi rounding a corner,
those two boys in wool caps angling across the street.
The fishermen bob in their boats,
the linemen climb their round poles,
the barbers wait by their mirrors and chairs,
and the poets continue to stare
at the cracked birdbath or a limb knocked down by the wind.
By now, it should go without saying
that what the oven is to the baker
and the berry-stained blouse to the dry cleaner,
so the window is to the poet.
Just think-
before the invention of the window,
the poets would have had to put on a jacket
and a winter hat to go outside
or remain indoors with only a wall to stare at.
And when I say a wall,
I do not mean a wall with striped wallpaper
and a sketch of a cow in a frame.
I mean a cold wall of fieldstones,
the wall of the medieval sonnet,
the original woman's heart of stone,
the stone caught in the throat of her poet-lover.

-Billy Collins


Lisa Miller said...

Liz, I had no idea you got married. Contrats - belated. Saw your blog from Heather's & Tera's. Glad you're doing so well. We miss all of you up there. Please tell your Mom & Dad that Lisa & Dan said hi.

Michaela Stephens said...

I love that poem. I'd say it pretty well sums it up how when writers look like they are doing nothing, they are actually doing very hard work - the work of thought. (It is too bad deep and difficult thought looks the same as no thought at all.)

I find that when I get stuck in my writing I have to go do household chores for about 5 minutes. And someone said something to the effect that no one needs more drinks of water than a writer sitting down to write.

Keep it up! I love your blog!