Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Billy Collins at the Edinbugh Book Festival
Last night at the Billy Collins poetry show
I took the last seat in the tent
beside a middle-aged American couple.
The husband turned to his wife and said,
“I wonder if anyone here will know
who you are.” The wife was silent.
And I thought this was exactly
the kind of thing that often happens
in a Billy Collins poem.
As I began to write it in my head
I sneaked a look, and felt disappointed
that I didn’t know who the wife was,
the shape of her face like a lizard
blown up to A3 by a photocopier
and pasted to every wall in the city.
Do you know who I am? it might shriek
to innocent passers by who know nothing
of poetry and probably don’t care.
And when Billy Collins takes the stage
and suggests that poetry might end
only when poets have finally compared
everything to everything else,
and at this, and everything else,
the crowd and I crease in laughter,
I realise I have never known him
beyond thumbnails on dustjackets
and a casual scratch of words in books.
Afterwards at the signing desk, he smiles,
asks pertinent questions, shakes my hand,
as if nothing could be more important.
He is like that incomparable something
which might remind you of something
hours after all comparisons have been made.