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Billy Collins


How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer,
wandering her cities and ascending her torrid hilltowns.
How much better to cruise these local, familiar streets,
fully grasping the meaning of every roadsign and billboard
and all the sudden hand gestures of my compatriots.

There are no abbeys here, no crumbling frescoes or famous
domes and there is no need to memorize a succession
of kings or tour the dripping corners of a dungeon.
No need to stand around a sarcophagus, see Napoleon’s
little bed on Elba, or view the bones of a saint under glass.

How much better to command the simple precinct of home
than be dwarfed by pillar, arch, and basilica.
Why hide my head in phrase books and wrinkled maps?
Why feed scenery into a hungry, one-eyed camera
eager to eat the world one monument at a time?

Instead of slouching in a café ignorant of the word for ice,
I will head down to the coffee shop and the waitress
known as Dot. I will slide into the flow of the morning
paper, all language barriers down,
rivers of idiom running freely, eggs over easy on the way.

And after breakfast, I will not have to find someone
willing to photograph me with my arm around the owner.
I will not puzzle over the bill or record in a journal
what I had to eat and how the sun came in the window.
It is enough to climb back into the car

as if it were the great car of English itself
and sounding my loud vernacular horn, speed off
down a road that will never lead to Rome, not even Bologna.

From The Art of Drowning (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995).
Used with permission.


Billy Collins is the author or editor of more than a dozen books. A former U.S. Poet Laureate (2001 - 2003), New York State Poet Laureate (2004 - 2006), Guggenheim fellow, and New York Public Library "Literary Lion," his poetry appeals to people of all ilk and ages. Billy's readings sell out immediately, his books achieve record-breaking sales, and he enjoys a public profile and popularity only a handful of American poets have ever known. A native New Yorker, Billy was the only child of an electrician and a nurse; his mother loved poetry and verse and frequently sang and recited it to her son. A Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College in the Bronx, Billy created the website, Poetry 180, during his tenure as Poet Laureate, to help high school students become more familiar with poetry. You can listen to some of his poems here.



Post New Comment:
I now understand 'consolation' more than I ever thought I would... or wanted to. Thank you, Billy. Judy
Posted 04/27/2011 11:30 AM
Joe Sottile:
Billy Collins is my favorite male poet, and this is one of my favorite poems of his. How delighted was I to see it here. Nice catch, Jayne!
Posted 04/27/2011 11:13 AM
I am always amazed and moved by Collins' work. I got to meet him at a conference here in Jacksonville, FL, and he was as dry and humorous in person as he is on the page. Thanks for making the effort to feature his poems, Jayne!
Posted 04/27/2011 08:32 AM
Gary Busha:
Good poem. I'd also like to see "TheLanyard" featured. Collins' themes are wide-ranging and excellent.
Posted 04/27/2011 07:36 AM

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