Poet Unparadelled

March 22: Billy Collins was born on this day in 1941. Collins has published or edited nine collections of reader-friendly poems over the last decade. When his The Trouble with Poetry (2005) appeared, it received the usual praise, but some protested that the two-term Poet Laureate might be accessible to a fault. One reviewer for the New York Times sprang into verse himself, asking Collins for "not a good-natured wave / from writer to reader, / or a literary joke, or a mild chuckle," but "to be drawn / high into the poem's cloud-filled air / and allowed to fall / on rocks real enough to hurt."

 

If Collins "has brought laughter back to a melancholy art," some of the laughs have come from a joke he played a few years ago through his mock-promotion of the "paradelle," a poetic form in the manner of the rondelle, villanelle, and other metric convolutions. Here's Collins providing a pedigree and definition for his invention, junked together from some wrecking-yard for poetic forms:

The paradelle is one of the more demanding French fixed forms, first appearing in the langue d'oc love poetry of the eleventh century. It is a poem of four six-line stanzas in which the first and second lines, as well as the third and fourth lines of the first three stanzas, must be identical. The fifth and sixth lines, which traditionally resolve these stanzas, must use all the words from the preceding lines and only those words. Similarly, the final stanza must use every word from all the preceding stanzas and only these words.

Many would-be paradelle-ists took all this seriously, and the form has actually gained some legitimacy—one recent collection published with an introduction by a bemused Collins.

 

In the title poem of The Trouble With Poetry, Collins pays tribute to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who turns ninety-two this Thursday. Collins says that "The trouble with poetry / is that it encourages the writing of more poetry / ...And along with that, the longing to steal, / to break into the poems of others /with a flashlight and a ski mask." He then steals from a poem in Ferlinghetti's A Coney Island of the Mind, which "I carried in a side pocket of my uniform / up and down the treacherous halls of high school."


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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