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January 26, 2013

My Literary Friend

by Brendan

Connected with my literary friend Bruce today.  I see him just about every week, sometimes several times, at A.A. meetings.  We used to meet for coffee every Wednesday afternoon and drive to a 5:30 meeting together, but the meeting changed location (drastically, like 11 miles), so our regular coffee date fell by the wayside.

We usually talked about fiction and poetry (I taught both during my Santa Fe College career, and Bruce is a published fiction writer, graduate of the University of Florida Creative Writing Program, and a mainstay in the Gainesville Writers Guild).  We even shared our published work and discussed it the following week.

Today Bruce told me about something (tv show? New Yorker article?) featuring Billy Collins, one of my favorite poets.  If you haven’t seen it, you MUST MUST MUST go to this link ( and watch Collins read his poem “Litany.”  He takes on, humorously, the poetic tradition of the love poem: praising the beloved with a “litany” of comparisons, and so by elaborate compliments “makiing headway,” as Collins says in his intro.   His “Litany” is, he explains, based a a previous poem, in which the poet apparently wrote a somewhat graceless and repetitive series of comparisons — which Collins says he has improved.  (“This is done out of courtesy,” he tells us.)

Billy Collins

Billy Collins

My classes were regularly treated to his poem “Introduction To Poetry,” in which students interpret a poem in various ways, not the ways in which Collins asks them to but using their own methods, finally tying the poem to a chair and beating a confession out of it.  And then there’s his poem “Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes,” in which it turns out that “the complexity of women’s undergarments in the 19th century is not to be waved away.”  After dealing with the complexity, the speaker of the poem finally (like a “polar explorer”) finds himself “sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.”

(Please forgive me if, in quoting from memory, I left out punctuation for line ends or changed any words.  Collins deserves better.)

On the schedule with Bruce for our next meeting is to talk about John McPhee.


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