Collins and Canada

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I’m delighted to be joining the celebration of former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins and his 76th birthday on March 22nd. (Thanks to  Heidi Mordhorst and others for the suggestion and heads-up on this!)

Though I don’t have any complete books of Billy Collins’ poetry, I’ve come across many of his poems online and have heard him read and lecture on YouTube. I always enjoy his work. To me it has a Seinfeld-ish vibe—poetry about little inconsequential things that are almost nothing, but in his hands become big, consequential metaphors of life and relationships.

The Poetry Foundation is where I found the poem of his that jumped out at me for today’s celebration. We in Canada are celebrating too. This year is our 150th Anniversary as a country. I’m helping to edit, for our local poetry society, an anthology in honour of that birthday, so I’ve read quite a few poems about Canada lately and was delighted to find a poem of Billy Collins’ called “Canada.”

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Canada Bag – Photo © 2017 by V. Nesdoly

Canada

– Billy Collins

I am writing this on a strip of white birch bark
that I cut from a tree with a penknife.
There is no other way to express adequately
the immensity of the clouds that are passing over the farms
and wooded lakes of Ontario and the endless visibility
that hands you the horizon on a platter.

I am also writing this in a wooden canoe,
a point of balance in the middle of Lake Couchiching,
resting the birch bark against my knees…

Read the rest…

I used Collins’ “Canada” as a mentor poem for my own Canada poem:

Canada

– Violet Nesdoly

I am writing this on a beaver tail
that my camera captured
beside a dammed prairie stream
under a canopy of blue
that sets off bordering quilt blocks
of yellow, brown and gold.

I am also writing this in Tim Horton’s
where I have just rolled up the rim
to “Please Play Again”
and am thinking of ordering
another coffee along with more hope
of a CRV, TV or even a Tim’s card
to help colour the long white winter.

O Canada, as the anthem goes,
scene of massive mountains
and mosquitoey lakes,
you are the memory of Mountain Lake,
the one-room school on the Saskatchewan prairie
where I learned to skate and spool knit
play Rook and binge read
sumptuous fare: Pookie and Old Yeller
My Friend Flicka and Thunderhead
Caddie Woodlawn, White Fang
Pat of Silverbush and Mistress Pat
which wondrously arrived
from time to time
in a traveling box.

O Canada, I want to be friends
as long as my memory lasts
to snap the bluebells in spring
and herons in fall,
cool off with Iced Capps® in summer
hibernate with poutine in winter
knit toques and pick Saskatoon berries
with only the occasional foray
over the line.
See that north-moving row of cars
approaching the Aldergrove crossing?
The woman in the passenger seat
of the blue Honda
wiping Edaleen ice-cream off her hands
before she digs for her passport
is me.

© 2017 (All rights reserved)

Happy Birthday, Billy Collins (and Heidi Mordhorst, who also has a birthday in March)!

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Poetry Friday LogoThis post is linked to Poetry Friday, hosted this week by Heidi Mordhorst and her blog My Juicy Little Universe.

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25 thoughts on “Collins and Canada

  1. This is a wonderful post. I love the connection of Billy Collins to Seinfeld, yes! And the amazing side by side poetic odes to Canada. I’ve never been to Canada, but these two poems make me feel the tug. Congratulations on your sesquicentennial celebration.

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    • Thank you, Margaret! Isn’t Collins’ poem wonderful? I would have loved to post the whole thing, but am a little nervous about copyright infringement. (And love that word “sesquicentennial”!) And yes, you should come to Canada… If you visit the west coast, I’ll show you around!

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  2. Funnily enough, I just got a “please play again” Tim’s cup, too! 😥

    Oh, your poem makes my heart sing! Growing up I never felt that Canadian or connected to Canada – Vancouver didn’t seem to mesh in any way with the Canada I saw on TV or read about it books – Ontario was “Canada”, the prairies were “Canada”, Vancouver always felt like a bit of an island! But as I’ve grown older I’ve realized that being Canadian isn’t about snow, or cottage country, or black flies (take that, Ontario!), it’s a state of mind, and one that anyone can embrace, no matter where they live! 🙂

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    • Right on, Jane! I think I first came to appreciate and love “place” through L. M. Montgomery’s books… the Anne series and Pat series. I read those books growing up in Saskatchewan, which felt like the backwater of the world to me… until I began to look at it through the eyes of someone who could find something to love wherever he/she lives. That love of place has expanded, now, to include Canada at large, whatever area.

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  3. Didn’t realize BC had written a poem about Canada — love that you did a spin-off of his poem. You are spot-on with your comparison to Seinfeld. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Jama! I didn’t realize BC had written a Canada poem either until I started looking through some of his titles. I think this one is quite old. I recall the date 1995 at the bottom of the post on the Poetry Foundation, so it may have fallen out of memory.

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  4. So fun! And this gives me an idea for using this as a mentor text with my students. I love the ending, especially! Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

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  5. I love your partner poems for Canada! My grandparents were from Newfoundland and I’ve visited there twice doing genealogy and visiting relatives. My husband and I have been to Quebec (on our honeymoon), and I used to go to Montreal to visit relatives. A number of years ago my husband and I bought five acres of ocean frontage in Nova Scotia which we still haven’t built on. Nova Scotia reminds me of Maine when I was a child. And Newfoundland – well, there is nothing like Newfoundland! It’s just an amazing place, and I do love it up there.

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  6. I love this, Vi, as I sit in our winter retreat in AZ. I have not read his poem on Billy Collins, although I do have one of his books. And your partner poem brings present and past to life, resonating with my own history (I read both your books and his). Will your Canada 150 anthology be published?

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    • Thank you, Jan! Yes, our book will be published. We’re planning to have it available around July 1st. I’ll get you a copy if you’d like one. (Nice to find another Billy Collins clan in a different circle than I usually find them 🙂

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  7. How wonderful that you found a BC poem about Canada and then created your own, too, Violet. Happy 150th anniversary to you. That anthology being created will be appreciated! I always like what you do in your poems, know that you also take many pictures on your walks, so a favorite line from you is “to snap the bluebells in spring/and herons in fall.” I enjoyed your post very much this am!

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  8. Violet! I’ve not seen this BC before. It’s gorgeous…..and takes me right to the cottage on Lake Rideau/Canal. There’s just something so intense about Canada’s beauty and bounty. I really think it is captured in this poem. I’ve pinned it and all the other BC poems to my pinterest poetry board. Thank, you! I’m going to go live in this line for a while before dinner….”that hands you the horizon on a platter.”

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  9. Violet, I have had many reactions to many BC poems this weekend and to their posts, but this poem is the one that made me laugh until breathless (mainly the Cherry Ames stanza, but also the moose). Your personal version of “Canada” is just genius and also as funny. Straw hat off to you!

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