Happy Poetry Friday! (Wondering what Poetry Friday is? Click here.)
Last week, I talked about how little I remember of the books I read. I was so grateful for those of you who chimed in and confessed similar experiences. And thank you, too, to Jane Heitman Healy, who shared this wonderful quote with me:
“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
I thought I’d share a poem I love by Billy Collins called “Forgetfulness.” It fits me perfectly for books, movies, and pretty much everything!
ForgetfulnessThe name of the author is the first to gofollowed obediently by the title, the plot,the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novelwhich suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbordecided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,to a little fishing village where there are no phones.Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbyeand watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,it is not poised on the tip of your tongueor even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.It has floated away down a dark mythological riverwhose name begins with an L as far as you can recallwell on your own way to oblivion where you will join thosewho have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.No wonder you rise in the middle of the nightto look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.No wonder the moon in the window seems to have driftedout of a love poem that you used to know by heart.–Billy Collins, all rights reserved
I’ve heard him read this poem twice live, and it’s fabulous. You can hear him read it at The Poetry Foundation, where I got the poem, here.
I’m on the road this afternoon because I’m speaking at a “Hot Reads for Cold Nights” school literacy celebration. I’ll share about it next week, I hope. Meanwhile, the Poetry Friday Roundup today is with Catherine at Reading to the Core. Happy Poetry Friday!
Linda Baie says
It’s both funny and tragic, but the only thing I can say in response is that everyone seems to forget a lot. I’m volunteering at a bookstore once a week now, and customers come in describing a book whose author they liked, and they would like another book by that author, BUT they would like it if I remembered who it might be. We’re all in that boat. I love those last two lines!
C’mon, Linda, can’t you remember the book I’m looking for, even if I can’t tell you anything about it?
So glad other book people are in the same boat. I can tell you that I loved a book, but not the character’s names, or what happens, or the author’s name. Love the poem, too.
Billy Collins always hits the nail on the head, doesn’t he? I love this poem, and shared it with my book group once when I read the book too far in advance of our meeting! Thanks for sharing it today, Laura! Can’t wait to hear more about “Hot Reads for Cold Nights.”
Hehe–great use of poetry as excuse. I wish I could memorize the first couple of stanzas of this to recite to people who want to talk about books with me:>)
Brenda Davis Harsham says
OMG I love that quote and thought I couldn’t love the poem as much and then I did! Reminds me of the Maya Angelou quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Forgetting would be such a joy, if only we could choose what to forget. Thanks for a great post! Warmly, Brenda
I love that! Haven’t heard that before (as far as I recall). Great point–if we could CHOOSE, wouldn’t that be wonderful. One thing I like about poetry that I heard Joyce Sidman say was that it was a great way to capture those moments in your life that you think you’ll always remember…but you won’t.
Brenda Davis Harsham says
Just the time we spend writing the poetry will make the memory more accessible. The best way to forget is to never think of it at all again. I’m sure I’ve forgotten lots of things that way. But how can I prove it? LOL
Love Billy Collins and love this poem! Ironically I had read it before but had forgotten about it. Thanks for refreshing my memory.Love these lines: “as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.” It makes it sound lovely and peaceful rather than ominous!
Heehee:>) Yes, aren’t those lines great? The problem itself is no fun, but the poem lets me hold the problem closer for a moment without being repulsed by it. Which is a lovely gift.
Tara Smith says
Yes, forgetfulness comes slowly…I see the humor in Collins’ poem, but also the other side, when forgetfulness is all there is.
Yes, it’s a bit like spitting into the wind. But that’s something I love about poetry–the ability to make beautiful, even for just a moment, something that can be tragic.
I, too, am on the road to oblivion, losing book titles and even the names of the students who are in my classroom this very year as I travel blissfully on…
I taught 8th grade for two years, and I had pairs of kids each year who I mixed up ALL year long. In my mind. I was very careful about saying names out loud. Collins makes oblivion so…lovely, somehow. Not like real life.