Friday, March 27, 2009

Poetry Friday: Billy Collins

Here's a neat little commentary on one of the pillars of our literary canon by the inestimable Billy Collins. Reprinted, shamefacedly, without permission from his collection Ballistics, published by Random House last year.

That roast beef has stopped me more than once, too, though I imagine the middle piggy in front of a bloody joint (as the British say), not a deli sandwich. It surely can't be the only nursery rhyme that stops us in our tracks, can it? Who's looked at the Opie collections lately?

My favorite line here is the one about the smug self-satisfaction of Jack Horner. We want to be Little Jack and we want to smack him in the face at the same time. Or maybe that's just Billy and me.

This Little Piggy Went to Market

is the usual thing to say when you begin
pulling on the toes of a small child,
and I have never had a problem with that.
I could easily picture the piggy with his basket
and his trotters kicking up the dust on an imaginary road.

What always stopped me in my tracks was
the middle toe -- this little piggy ate roast beef.
I mean I enjoy a roast beef sandwich
with lettuce and tomato and a dollop of horseradish,
but I cannot see a pig ordering that in a delicatessen.

I am probably being too literal-minded here --
I am even wondering why it's called "horseradish."
I should just go along with the beautiful nonsense
of the nursery, float downstream on its waters.
After all, Little Jack Horner speaks to me deeply.

I don't want to be the one to ruin the children's party
by asking unnecessary questions about Puss in Boots
or, again, the implications of a pig eating beef.
By the way, I am completely down with going
"Wee wee wee" all the way home,
having done that many times and knowing exactly how it feels.

-- Billy Collins, 2008


ddpattison said...

I love Billy Collins, but hadn't seen this one yet. He's so conversational.

My daughter is a vegetarian, so we've changed the middle toe line to "roast beets."

Thanks for sharing!

Brenda Bowen said...

I love roast beets *and* "roast beets." What a nice innovation.

Brian Floca said...

In Richard Scarry’s European Word Book, I think it is, there’s a grocery store scene in which pig mom and pig kid — in his stroller — survey cheerfully the goods at the deli counter. The longer you look at it, the more jarring it gets.

Susan Sawyer said...

Oh dear. Mr. Collins isn't a farm kid, is he? This brings up the gruesome subject of slaughterhouse pigs. (I think they're now illegal.)

Pigs are omnivores. They'll eat anything. Talk about bunny eat bunny.

I like roast beets too.

Anonymous said...

Billy Collins is really surprising. I admire that he is never run out of ideas, and he gets his inspiration even in ordinary things. I think he should write a poem about generic viagra