I love the notion of a Poet Laureate. The concept dates right back to ancient Greece with the awarding of crowned laurels in recognition of great skill in rhetoric, grammar and language. We don't have one in Australia, mores the pity (Julia? Can I table this?), but over a dozen other countries do, including the UK, where poet Carol Ann Duffy gets to hold the position for a decade, and the US, where the post is for one year only. The current US Poet Laureate is Philip Levine, who I may feature some other Monday. The job of the Poet Laureate is to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry - a wonderful job that is often done with great skill. One of the more well known US laureates is Billy Collins, who held the position from 2001 to 2003. I think that one of the reasons for Collins' success is his absolute accessibility - his poems are rich with the details of everyday life, with recognisable referents, and impact that any reader will get. He is also, often, very funny. Here is one of his poems not published in a collection - one that, I think, encompasses the simultaneous humor and beauty of Collins' work.
I Ask You
What scene would I want to be enveloped in
more than this one,
an ordinary night at the kitchen table,
floral wallpaper pressing in,
white cabinets full of glass,
the telephone silent,
a pen tilted back in my hand?
It gives me time to think
about all that is going on outside--
leaves gathering in corners,
lichen greening the high grey rocks,
while over the dunes the world sails on,
huge, ocean-going, history bubbling in its wake.
But beyond this table
there is nothing that I need,
not even a job that would allow me to row to work,
or a coffee-colored Aston Martin DB4
with cracked green leather seats.
No, it's all here,
the clear ovals of a glass of water,
a small crate of oranges, a book on Stalin,
not to mention the odd snarling fish
in a frame on the wall,
and the way these three candles--
each a different height--
are singing in perfect harmony.
So forgive me
if I lower my head now and listen
to the short bass candle as he takes a solo
while my heart
thrums under my shirt--
frog at the edge of a pond--
and my thoughts fly off to a province
made of one enormous sky
and about a million empty branches.