For the Man in the Museum, by David J. Bauman


My friend Bill’s kayak where the two branches of the Susquehanna meet, between Northumberland and Sunbury, PA.

For the details of why I am posting this here, you can review the last post.

Let’s keep this simple. I’m sharing a couple of poems of mine that were published three years ago by Word Fountain, the Literary Magazine of the Osterhout Free Library. At that time I had no idea that I would someday be managing a small branch of the Osterhout, let alone become the editor-in-chief of this magazine, or any magazine for that matter.

So here’s one that is a response to a Billy Collins poem, even though his poem wasn’t really what I thought it was at first. I explain that in the video. When I met Billy Collins, the same year this video was recorded, it was at King’s College, just about a block from the main Osterhout branch, more than an hour from where I was living at the time.  I asked him to sign next to his poem, and explained why.

Billy Collins signs his poem for me, right befoe I crack him up.

Billy Collins signs his poem for me, right before I crack him up.

He soberly asked, “Have you ever been kayaking on the Susquehanna?”

I replied, “Yes–”

He interrupted, “Then it doesn’t count.”

Simultaneously I said, “And it was a pleasure.” He laughed! I made Billy Collins laugh. That’s a nice memory. Maybe you’ll understand when you hear the reading. The text of the poem is below the video, and the original it was based on is here.

For the Man in the Museum
(After Billy Collins)

Not in July or any month
have I had the pleasure—if it is a pleasure—
Of fishing on the Susquehanna.
– Billy Collins

Kayaking on the Susquehanna—
now that’s a pleasure—in July or
any month lacking ice or floods.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a painting
of someone kayaking on the Susquehanna,
or any Pennsylvania waters for that matter.

My body feels it now, the ache that pushes
muscles as I row this rocking rhythm,
the meter of my stroke a little off—

two beats to port for each at starboard.
This fat little sit-on-top is made
for ocean waves, not upstream track.

But it’s the only kayak I own, so I row
on the Susquehanna, my backyard stream.
This far north of Harrisburg where West

meets North, the water’s deep, at least
when the dam is up. It’s inflatable, you know,
like the ego of poets who don’t know

about boats or bats that swoop past,
or fishing poles, or calloused hands,
curved paddles that dip and scoop,

and dribble Susquehanna into your lap.
It’s dusk; two ducks, and a loon flap past,
wings nearly tipping the waves. I tire and drift

the way we poets do when we’ve pushed
the pen too hard, and need to let
the stream find us again.

The slow current spins me facing downstream,
toward a low waxing moon, and even the rise
of countless mayflies doesn’t hide the glow

of pink sky above a bank of jumbled trees.
I imagine, as I glide toward shore,
a man in a museum, mind adrift,

gazing at a picture of a stranger
kayaking on the Susquehanna.
He senses something he has missed,

and thinks to write of his regret,
fleeting as a Pennsylvania rabbit,
briefly mourning a euphoria he’ll never know.

Shoulders sore, a setting sun, the moon
and first few stars hover over slow
roving water. Up ahead a bass jumps

for the day’s last fly. From far away I feel
his gaze. I pull my body up and out, and tug
the craft to ground, dripping the river behind me.


©2013 by David J. Bauman. First printed in Word Fountain, the Literary Magazine of the Osterhout Free Library, spring 2013, issue no. 8.

Love Poems You Wish You Had Written #1–“Aimless Love,” by Billy Collins

AimlessIt was two years ago that Suzie Grogan and I played a game of tennis with posts about the love poems we wish we had written, and yet, romantically perhaps, it seems a lifetime ago. Please pardon the cliché! Well, Suzie is at it again on No More Wriggling Out of Writing, and I’m going to follow her lead this time. She’s taking requests this year, or at least suggestions, and I’ll do the same.

What love poem makes you wish you had written it?

Suzie’s first of the week is the classic, and very romantic, “The Good Morrow,” by John Donne, with a marvelous reading by Kenneth Branagh. In this age of Grey’s fifty shades, I concur with her insistence that “Donne is sexier by far than anything E L James came up with.”

The poem I have chosen for my first of this 2015 Valentine’s week, by contrast, is contemporary, and was recommended by my son Micah, known in the blogging world as The Monkey Prodigy. The poem even features a heart just waiting for arrows to pierce it. Sounds like a Valentine’s Day poem, no? Well, maybe it’s a different kind of love, maybe a better kind, the sort of love born of attention and care, and well, how could that not be a romantic good?

Billy Collins is often a guest on “A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor.” Just this weekend he appeared with guest host Chris Thile for another wonderful show. The video below was from a PHP reading a little over a year ago.

The poem seems to start as a lighthearted exploration of the way we thoughtlessly toss around the concept of falling in love, but in the end, even in the joke of the soap after handling a mouse, there is something in the way the poet caresses the details, the way great poets do, that brings about a simple authenticity that just feels right and, well good. Well, I think it’s lovely, and a good first choice, as it is from his 2013 book of the same title, “Aimless Love.” Thank you, Micah!

The full text can be read on the September 1st, edition of Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac from 2013, where you can also hear the smooth voice in the red shoes read the poem. Here’s Billy’s version.


You Don’t Even Like Poetry, or Do You?

This Week in Poetry, Even for Non-Poets

From "Eating Poetry"

Mark Strand, from “Eating Poetry”

I am truly tickled to see so much being written about poetry during this (inter)National Poetry Month to an audience outside the traditional poetry scene. Often people who claim to dislike poetry merely had a bad experience, likely in high school, as Billy Collins likes to say “the place where poetry goes to die.” But it may be that people who don’t care for poetry have just never had it presented to them well, or that it has been so long that they don’t remember. I could be more cynical about pop culture, but I get so caught up in that hope thing.

Last week the Huffington Post published “7 Poetry Collections for Every Type of Reader.” While that title is ambiguously more expansive than its article delivers, the seven books suggested are indeed appropriately excellent suggestions for various kinds of readers who might otherwise not read poems at all. I give the article a good score for starting with a book of Kay Ryan poems, and including some scraps of images from Emily Dickinson who wrote on everything from napkins to receipts. Bonus points for including the mention of Frank O’Hara’s “Having a Coke with You.”

Also of note was Flavorwire’s “50 Essential Books of Poetry that Everyone Should Read.” Granted, I wish they had included Yeats, and you’ll quickly notice an “essential” favorite of your own that has been left out, but it’s impossible to cover every highlight in 50 books. So if you have books to add to it, I encourage you to write a follow-up post and link to it in the comments. Still, the rationale behind their selections is sound, and you will find many solid recommendations in their list, whether they be for you yourself, or for your friend who thinks he “hates” poems.

Looking Back

Nearly two years ago I wrote a blog post that still gets hits and attention, and shows up in my “most popular” posts stats, so I went to give it a visit today and realized that in the comments there were some excellent points that I seemed to have missed. I don’t know if anyone will get the message that I replied to them two years later, but I just couldn’t help myself.

The post entitled “Why (Even We) Hate Poetry” was an extension of this discussion started by J. Lynn Sherridan on her blog Writing on the SunTo boil it down we mainly discussed two extremes of the poetry world, or maybe I should say what passes as poetry. First we agreed we hated what she called “goobery poetry.” Here’s what she had to say about that:

I hate rainbow poems unless they’re for kids or all in fun. I hate bubble bath poetry. I hate reading a poem and feeling like I need to scrape the sentiment off with a spatula.

It took me the longest time to figure out why. I think it’s because some poems just don’t ring true. A love poem can be beautiful but it must sound sincere and authentic. Not contrived.

But we also seemed to agree that while poetry takes some effort to really grasp as opposed to simply enjoying a passing listen, we also hated the idea of difficulty for difficulty-sake poems, especially when in an attempt to avoid over-sentimentality are so stand-offish as to feel completely without guts or soul. Here is a bit of what I had to say about that:

I am not against difficulty or challenge. But the challenge and difficulty like all aspects of art should be appropriate to the art at hand, and not be difficult just for the sake of difficulty itself. It’s that arrogance that I read in some of these modern philosophical pieces that pisses me off. You can almost hear the poet saying, “Hah! I bet that you won’t get that, and anyway you’ll need a dictionary to read my writing, because I just proved I’m smarter than you.”

This sort of thing seems to be less prevalent than I recall from the workshops and early slams of the late nineties and 2000s, but I am still puzzled by how frequently I read in very reputable and respected literary journals poetry that is so. . . I don’t know, lifeless? I don’t wish to contribute to the anti-elitist cliché, but the flowery ornament of intellect and thesaurus is, when it comes down to it, just as fake and flat, just as horrible and unlovely as the flowery sap of insincere greeting card sentiment.poultry

Even if the form is precise, the language lovely, the music, the meter, the sound. . . there must be some sense, something in it that pulls or kicks at our gut, or am I missing the point of art? My point is that both saying something and saying it splendidly are important. Even the nonsense of Lewis Carrol and Kenneth Koch has an emotional sense, that for lack of a better description, feels right, or surprises while it fulfills. The language must say something, even if it is ambiguous, that moves us, and it must say it in a way that recognizes itself as language (to borrow favorite professor Stephen Whitworth‘s phrase). Good poetry is not merely form and intelligent language, not merely a word-puzzle, but also a human event, even if only a small one.

I really like the way RKHouse put it:

I don’t look for a poet to impress me that he is smarter than me. There are a lot of people who are smarter than me that can say things that are difficult for me to understand. I look for a poet to impress me that he has more artistic imagination and vision and has the power to make me wonder how long it took to work with all those words in order to tell that story and at the same time make it rhyme or have rhythm or alliteration. Impress me by being able to work at multiple levels and bring it all together in ways that leave me standing bowed over in humbled wonder at the beautiful artistry of the act of creation.

And I would like to add that the reward should be worth the effort put into the task. I don’t want to bust my knuckles open breaking into a safe only to find a five dollar bill, unless that five dollar bill is somehow the most beautiful five dollar bill the world has ever seen, or maybe it’s the first five dollar bill that my father ever earned at the business that supported our family through difficult times.

Ah, but there it is, sentiment again. Why are poets afraid of it? Probably because most don’t do it well; it comes off as false or preachy, immature, and it’s delivered without skill or ingenuity. Maybe it is cliché, stated in phrases we’ve heard it over and over. So make it new, as Pound said. But don’t give up the human part of the humanities. Poetry is more than mere artifice.

In a recent blog post that I will try to come back to this week, Scott Edward Anderson put it this succinctly: “Poetry should be neither a Rubik’s cube nor a road sign.” I perhaps should have quoted him and left it at that. 

Nebulous Promises for the Week Ahead

I have mentioned that I want to share with you some of the many exciting things happening for National Poetry Month for both writers and readers, but there is just so much of it, and so much I’ve been catching up on myself. I will attempt to link up to a few of the folks I admire in hopes that you’ll enjoy the ride and maybe find a bit of inspiration for your own self there, whether it be to write or to enjoy the reading.

Speaking of reading, someone in  one of the above discussions that I linked to had mentioned the importance of reading poetry out loud. I have done some readings in the past of poets whose work I adore (maybe a hundred and forty on YouTube, and I think more than fifty on Soundcloud). Since this is the first NPM in a while that I haven’t directly participated in the challenges, either of sharing or composing, I promise to repost a few of my favorites.

And since a dear friend of mine promises to sick the “old Nazi” Ezra Pound on me for turning it into a verb, “Poem on!”

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Aimless Love Has Landed at Last

Poetry by Special Delivery

Poetry by Special Delivery

Today’s day at work was to be five hours longer than it was originally scheduled. Then I stayed an extra two hours. So. Aside from feeling like I have been run over by a truck, this frickin’ day was longer than 35% of my life thus far! No, seriously, have you ever known me to exaggerate?

The good news is that the truck was actually the UPS truck! And that makes me leap for joy (on my right leg, the one where the knee still works most of the time). I have been meaning to order this book for some time with the gift card I got for Christmas . . . or was it my birthday? I don’t know. I’m like the absent-minded professor, except I have nothing to profess.

Anywho, Billy Collins came out with Aimless Love, well I mean it already existed. It’s not like he invented it or anything. People have been aimlessly loving for millions of years, but too often it seems they have missed the mark. Wait. I think I’ve bungled that metaphor pretty badly.

In any case, Collins published a book of new and selected poems late last year and entitled it Aimless Love. That’s it on the left in the blurry, indistinct photo which is blurry and indistinct, and still in the box (the photo, not the book) because I was just so excited to finally have it, and my hands were shaking, and I was weeping . . . and no! I told you I never exaggerate. Much.

I cannot think of a better present for myself here at the beginning of National Poetry Month on which I have promised you some sort of poetry post each day. And below, doing all the work for me this time, is Billy Collins himself on the set of my favorite Radio Show, Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, reading the title poem from the book. It seems he’s a guest on the show whenever Keillor is in town. And if you are not familiar with this wonderful old-style live radio show, you are missing out on the greatest invention since sliced poetry.  Enjoy!

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A Thursday Love Poem, “The Four Moon Planet,” by Billy Collins

Cover of "The Notebooks of Robert Frost"

Cover of The Notebooks of Robert Frost

I don’t know what Robert Frost was thinking when he jotted those words in his notes, “I have envied the four moon planet.” Or maybe he never wrote them at all. Maybe Billy Collins just made the whole thing up. I’ll have to read The Notebooks of Robert Frost to find out for sure. But it’s a lovely poem that Billy created from Frost’s idea.

And since aliens and outer space are sometimes subjects of scary movies and costumes (I’ve dressed as an alien for Halloween, haven’t you?), then maybe it’s not too much of a stretch to make “The Four Moon Planet” by Billy Collins our October 31st Thursday Love Poem. You know, it being Halloween and all, and we bloggers feeling this market-driven need to relate everything to everything else.

Come to think of it, isn’t that what poets do? I recall Billy saying as much in another poem. “The Trouble with Poetry,” I believe it was.

Aside: And while I’m thinking of it, if you managed to miss the former Poet Laureate reading, quipping, and doing poetry tricks with Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report Tuesday night, treat yourself by clicking here.

But what’s a Thursday Love Poem, you ask? Well, let me quote myself from last Thursday, when we enjoyed the first ever Thursday Love Poem. Last week we were dumped unceremoniously by Edna St. Vincent Millay via the Thursday Love Poem feature’s flagship poem, appropriately called “Thursday.”

. . . And what should a Thursday Love Poem be here on The Dad Poet? Well, let’s face it, it’s got to be a bit unconventional. No Hallmark cards of course, and none of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Not that your sweetheart doesn’t deserve a nice greeting card, and not they the Bard’s love poems are not a delight (come to think of it a few might actually fit in here) . . . But we have already read Robert Burns’, “my luv is like a red red rose.” Here I want to share something different, off-center, unexpected, something that resonates, but may not be what you expect from a love poem.

. . . I do not wish to act as if true love and romance in a poem is “dishonest,” as some writers claim. But for a poem to be a Thursday Love Poem it will have to look at that tenderness squinting sideways, maybe standing on its head, in order to give us a unique view, one other than what the masses have come to expect of a love poem.

In other words a Thursday Love Poem isn’t your grandmother’s love poem, baby.

And so for this Thursday Love Poem we go galactic, but subtly with the master of wit and winsomeness, Billy Collins. Perhaps I’ll make a brief comment or two below the poem’s text.


The Four-Moon Planet

I have envied the four-moon planet.
-The Notebooks of Robert Frost

Maybe he was thinking of the song
“What a Little Moonlight Can do”
and became curious about
what a lot of moonlight might be capable of.

But wouldn’t this be too much of a good thing?
and what if you couldn’t tell them apart
and they always rose together
like pale quadruplets entering a living room?

Yes, there would be enough light
to read a book or write a letter at midnight,
and if you drank enough tequila
you might see eight of them roving brightly above.

But think of the two lovers on a beach,
his arm around her bare shoulder,
thrilled at how close they were feeling tonight
while he gazed at one moon and she another.

From Ballistics
Copyright © 2008 by Billy Collins
Random House

Alright then. You have heard me defend Collins, as if he needs defending, from those who criticize his “simplicity,” using the word “accessible” as if it were a bad thing, as if erecting an electric, barbed-wire fence around an art museum were a good idea. You have heard me say a hundred times that accessibility does not equal simplicity. Neither does complexity, ambiguity, or depth of thought require linguistic word puzzles meant to lose the reader and prove how very clever and intelligent the poet is. Collins is certainly accessible, but he’s anything but simplistic.

And this poem is a prime example. It may also serve as an illustration of why I love poetry so much.  Prose might have simply told us, “In matters of love we are so unknowably different from each other that we are doomed to have wildly divergent views of what our relationship actually is.” Or, “We never see each other for who we are, and nobody could ever truly know the other’s thoughts.”

This is probably all true; it might even be a revelation, but how beautifully Collins sets us up, not to tell us this, but to let us discover it ourselves in the final line, “while he gazed at one moon and she another.” He says it without ever saying it. And the result is that tiny gasp, maybe not the freezing, headless sensation Emily Dickinson described, but a tug in the gut that makes me feel something true. And it comes about from a carefully laid trap that I am glad to have fallen into, the way I am glad when Agatha Christie brilliantly shows me why I should have known all along what Miss Marple understood about the murderer. This is why I can’t get enough good poems in my life, getting slapped in the gut, liking it, and asking for more.

Poem on.