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Understanding the Romantically Straightforward Poetry of Billy Collins

Jun 9, 2023 | 0 comments

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Jun 9, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments

The Poet: Billy Collins

Collins is one of the most renowned and recognized poets in the American poet arena. Many of his fans and even critics have termed him as the romantic poet of this era. This is not surprising as he has studied, and specialized in the area of romantic poetry. Surprisingly as Collins has often been quoted saying, romantic poetry is a field that has been continuously neglected in academic circles. It is often thought to be much less or inferior to other fields of poetry. Unlike majority of his colleagues who have relied more on historical poetry for inspiration, Collins often thinks and imagines that his poetry will outlast poems of the past. He has chosen to learn, master and internalize the techniques of the past in hopes of improving poetry for the present. As Elkins states, he has often been quoted as saying that he is yet to learn and master the art of poetry completely so that he can enter into the circles of many of the historical poets (21). He thrives on learning and criticism, being the first and perhaps only poet to encourage criticism often calling it the sharpening of his skill. Without criticism, it means that either the poem has not been heard or no one is listening to the message therein.


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Majority of Collins’ poems are often in a domestic setting. Unlike the historical fathers who often relied on symbolism and other language skills to mask the message, Collins often prefers a straight forward approach. His poems are easy to understand. With the publishing of the poem Osso Buco, majority of his fans expected that at this time he would reveal more of his own private life. This has been the bone of contention with many of his fans and other lovers of his poetry. Such interest arose when he received high accolades for the poem inclusive of a huge financial gain. Being the first poet to earn as much and be highly recognized in other arenas apart from the world of academia, his life drew much interest. However, he continues to set his poems in the domestic world still revealing very little about his own private life. This of course sets him apart from, other romantic poets. The poets often have a story, personal or otherwise which inspires the words in their poems. The general mood of the poem is set with the experiences and relations that the writer s experiencing at this time. Anger, seduction and even love are emotions that present themselves in these poems. This is unlike the poems set by Collins which often are a learning point, an encouragement or admonition in particular behaviors during relations and especially in the domestic setting.

One of his main beliefs is that poetry is an art and subject which people should encounter at an early age. He is often found reading and inspiring young people to explore their skills in the world of poetry. His programs are centered on encouraging creativity, research and develop interest in every individual into the world of poetry (Collins 67). His poems, unlike many by his colleagues are not just words put together which are easily forgotten, they have quickly become part and parcel of American history. It can be said that Collins is the most recognized and celebrated poet in American history and especially in this century.

The Poem: Osso Buco

Osso Buco is one of the poems by Billy Collins which many have termed as straight forward. The poem is again based on a domestic setting. As Collins has often stated and can be quoted through lines of the poem, the poem is more about appreciating the simplicity of life. Osso Buco is a foreign dish that has gained popularity in America often being associated with warmth and homeliness. This is perhaps why Collins chose the dish as the title of his poem as well as the subject of his writing. He begins by illustrating the scrumptious dish, down to the accompanying wine and in this way makes a setting a kind of imaginative trip for the reader. To him, the dinner has been perfectly put in place and as though he is expecting the reader to be less than content, he gives an avid description to ensure that the warmth of the preparation and the love that has been put in the dish is conveyed.

The poem continues by describing the contentment of the diner in his home. Collins indicates that we hear little if anything about contentment and joy in poetry, (V2). Often poems are associated with deprivation, hunger and sadness. Romantic poets of the past are recognized for the somber mood they create in poems. Poets have come to be known as somber, sad and disassociated individuals. He sets his poem apart by including words of satisfaction, contentment and joy. According to Collins, in the poem it can clearly be seen that his joy and happiness comes not because he has many friends, he is eating dinner alone after all; not because he is wealthy or even popular but simple things in home (69). The laughter of his wife, a warm meal on his table and the comfort of his home are the source of joy in his life. In the poem he equates his satisfaction in life to that of a chief’s son, who held high esteem and was greatly respected in the native tribes often having more than they required.

It is important to note that although the poem is filled with appreciation of life, it is also not ignorant of the world beyond the dining table. Often critics have stated that Osso Buco does not provide the reality of life. People are often burdened with the state of the nation, the failure of economies and other issues beyond their home. Because of this burden, they cannot associate with the contentment of the diner in the poem. However, the poet recognizes that there are those who are struggling and the nation state may not be excellent. He states that “…a man is crawling …on bleeding knees and palms…carrying the stone of the world in his stomach” (V4). Prufer states that and even beyond there are those who have no joy in their dining tables (13). However, for the poet such issues are far beyond his table, they are outside his home; such burdens are not his to carry. Instead he chooses to focus on appreciating that which is his home. By making this choice, he surmises that his dreams will be more pleasant and his sleep more relaxing. The burdens of the world will not enter any part of the sanctuary of his home.

Work Cited

Billy Collins. LitFinder Contemporary Collection. Detroit: Gale, 2007

Elkins, Andrew. Another Place: An Ecocritical Study of Selected Western American Poets. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 2002.

Prufer, Kevin. The New Young American Poets: An Anthology. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000.

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