Thursday Book Feature: The Poetry of Billy Collins

In celebration of National Poetry Month, I’m reviewing two collections by one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins. . Some of you may remember that I reviewed The Rain in Portugal last year, but I’ve since read it again, and it’s worth a second look.

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Aimless Love: A Selection of Poems
Copyright 2012.

The poems in this collection provide slice-of-life and often humorous reflections on such topics as nature, religion, and other poets. In “The Revenant,” a deceased dog talks to his owner from the grave. In “The Lanyard,” the author describes how he made a lanyard for his mother, who did a lot more for him. In “Suggestion Box,” he considers writing a poem about all the people who give him poem ideas. The title poem is about unconditional love. Some poems here are previously published while others are new.

If you’re a poet, Billy Collins might inspire you. After reading “The Revenant,” I wrote a poem in which one of our cats speaks to my father from her grave. “Istanbul,” in which the poet shares his experience with a Turkish bath, inspired me to write about a similar experience I had in a California spa run by Koreans. Even if you’re not a fan of poetry, you might enjoy Billy Collins’ work, since most of it reads more like prose, although it looks like poetry on the page.

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The Rain in Portugal: Poems
Copyright 2016.

In the author’s usual humorous style, poems in this collection reflect on jazz, writing poetry, and other subjects. In “Lucky Cat,” Collins suggests betting with other humans on the actions of felines. In “Only Child,” he longs for a sister to help care for his aging parents. In “The Bard in Flight,” he imagines what Shakespeare would do on an airplane. The collection’s title comes from the poem “On Rhyme,” in which he reflects on such common sayings as “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.”

I heard about this latest collection when he appeared on A Prairie Home Companion. . Of course he read a few of his poems, and I was hooked. Needless to say, I downloaded the book and spent a delightful evening reading the poems aloud to myself.

According to an author’s note at the beginning, the electronic version of this book is designed so that formatting isn’t affected when the font size of the type is changed. Words at the ends of lines that are moved down when text is enlarged are indented to indicate they’re part of the same line. This didn’t make any difference to me, since I read the book in Braille, but I’m glad those with low vision can enjoy the poems the way they were written. These poems are meant to be recited, preferably by
Billy Collins, but I enjoyed reading them aloud.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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Saturday Song: Petula Clark–Downtown

Thanks to Mike Staton in Writing Wranglers and Warriors for inspiring me to post this song. You can tune in on Tuesday for my downtown memories. Enjoy this song, and have a great Saturday.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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To Dylan at Twenty-One

Greetings again from sunny Florida, where we celebrated my nephew’s twenty-first birthday yesterday. Below is a poem I wrote for this occasion. Happy birthday, Dylan.

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TO MY NEPHEW AT TWENTY-One

Born on St. Patrick’s Day,
named after Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas,
you were Grandma Gummy’s little dilly bar.
During your first twelve months of life,
I held your eight-pound body,
sang “Three Little Ducks,”

Then you were two.
Grandpa Grumpy’s truck fascinated you.
Being told “no” did not.
At four, you played soccer,
wanted to be big–Now you are.

Life wasn’t always kind
but now, the possibilities are endless.
With your own band,
you could create a record label,
write and record hundreds of songs,
give thousands of performances across the country,
or you could be a teacher like your dad
or a writer like me.
You could inspire millions.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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Let’s Talk

Here are twenty-five fun questions I picked up from blogger Amaan Khan. I triple dog dare you to answer these, either on your own blog or in the comments field. My answers are below.

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Q1: Do you have any pets?

A: No, although I like cats and dogs, after being my late husband Bill’s caregiver for six years, I’m still not ready to care for another living thing, even though it’s been five years since he died.

Q2: Name three things that are close to you.

A: My computer, my Braille tablet, which I’m using as a display at the moment, and my closed-circuit television reading system.
Q3: What’s the weather like right now”

A: Here in Sheridan, Wyoming, it’s sunny with a blue sky and 47 degrees Fahrenheit. The multitude of snow we’ve accumulated in the past couple of months is melting.

Q4: Do you drive? If so, have you crashed?

A: No, I don’t drive because of my visual impairment. If I did, I would crash.

Q5: What time did you wake up this morning?

A: About six thirty.

Q6: When was the last time you showered?

A: This morning.

Q7: Do you participate in any sports?

A: No, for the same reason I don’t drive, but I work out regularly.

Q8: What does your last text message say?

A: That I don’t remember since I haven’t received a text message in a couple of days.

Q9: What is your ring tone?

A: It’s simply called “harp.” It’s one of about twenty that were already on my phone when I got it.

Q10: Have you ever been out of your country or traveled by plane?

A: Yes, I traveled to Mexico with my father when I was twelve. We were living in Tucson, Arizona, at the time and studying Spanish and thought it would be fun to go there and practice what we’d learned. I came home with a bad case of Montezuma’s revenge. I’ve also made many trips by plane.

Q11: Do you like sushi?

A: I’ve never had it, but I’m sure I wouldn’t like it. It sounds disgusting.

Q12: Do you have a desktop or a laptop?

A: I have a desktop computer, but I also use a braille tablet.

Q13: How old will you be turning on your next birthday?

A: I’ll be fifty-seven.

Q14: Do you wear glasses or contacts?

A: No, they don’t do anything to correct my limited vision.

Q15: What is your favorite pizza topping?

A: I like everything on a pizza. My late husband Bill, on the other hand, only liked meat and mushrooms and a little cheese. WhenEver we ordered a pizza, we always got half and half. Because of my limited vision, after I served each of us a slice, Bill often took a bite and said, “Oooh, this is your half.”

Q16: Flight or invisibility?

A: I’m not sure I’m a fan of either.

Q17: Which is your favorite book of all time?

A: I don’t have any favorite books.

Q18: Are you married?

A: Not anymore. I was married in 2005. Three months later, Bill suffered the first of two strokes that paralyzed his left side. After six months of recuperation in a nursing home, I cared for him for six years until he passed in 2012. You can learn more about that by reading My Ideal Partner.
Q19: What is your favorite drink?

A: Dr. Pepper.

Q20: What was your favorite subject in school?

A: English.

Q21: What’s your favorite movie?

A: The Wizard of Oz.

Q22: How do I bring you to your knees?

A: Chocolate ice cream.

Q23: What is your favorite color?

A: Blue.

Q24: Did you graduate from high school?

A: Yes, in 1980.

Q25: What is the last thing you bought?

A: An iGoku Bluetooth speaker.

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Now, you know almost everything there is to know about me. As I said before, I encourage you to answer any or all of these questions, either in the comments field or on your own blog. If you answer the questions on your blog, please include a link to this post. I look forward to reading your answers.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: The Christmas Train

Don’t ask why my group chose a Christmas book to discuss in March. At least you’ll have something to put on your December reading list. Merry Christmas, three months late or nine months early, depending on how you look at it.

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The Christmas Train
Baldacci, David.
Copyright 2002.

After being put on the no-fly list as a result of a confrontation with the airlines, journalist Tom decides to travel by train across the country from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles and write about it. In L.A., he plans to spend Christmas with his current girlfriend, Lilia, an actress. Along the way, he meets an eccentric old lady, a retired priest, a movie director, and then his former girlfriend Eleanor. Things get even more interesting when Lilia boards the train in Kansas City. Other events including the discovery of a naked man sleeping in one of the coach cars, a series of robberies, and a blizzard make this a hilarious, heartwarming holiday tale with two interesting revelations at the end.

This was another book that was hard to put down. I was right there on the train with Tom, Eleanor, and the other characters, yet thankful to be safe in my recliner at home when the train encountered an avalanche. I definitely recommend The Christmas Train as a great holiday read.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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My Favorite Family Holiday Vacation

In 1970 when I was nine, and my younger brother Andy was two, we were living in Tucson, Arizona. At Christmas that year, it was decided that Mother, Andy, and I would spend the holiday in Denver with Mother’s relatives while Dad visited his family in Sheridan, Wyoming. I assume this is because my parents couldn’t agree on one place to spend Christmas. Looking back, I can’t imagine why we couldn’t have seen both sets of relations, since Sheridan is only about an eight-hour drive from Denver, compared to the mileage between Denver and Tucson.

This was my first Christmas away from home, and I was worried about Santa finding us, but Mother assured me that he would come to Denver. I don’t remember how Dad got to and from Sheridan, but Mother, Andy, and I flew to and from Denver. Grammy and Granddad, as we affectionately called my mother’s parents, had recently moved into a new house they’d built on a hillside. It was a split-level home, and I found it fascinating.

From the garage, a set of stairs led to a door which opened onto a hallway. On the left was a bathroom and on the right was Granddad’s study. Straight ahead was a large family room containing a couch, several chairs, a TV, and a piano. A sliding door led to a patio beyond.

To the left, another set of stairs led to an expansive living and dining area and kitchen. More stairs led to yet another level containing three bedrooms and a bathroom. The master bedroom, where Grandad slept, had its own bathroom. The room where we slept had a set of double decker beds plus a crib for Andy. Mother and I utilized the bunks with me on the bottom and her on the top. After living in single-level homes in Tucson for years, despite my limited vision, I loved this house with all its stairs.

My mother’s brother Jack, his wife Sharon, and their children, Kelly and Bill, also lived in Denver. Kelly was my age, and Bill was Andy’s, so we always enjoyed playing together. We spent Christmas Eve at their house, then returned to Grammy and Granddad’s house and went to bed. In the middle of the night, I woke up and realized we’d forgotten to hang our stockings. Where would Santa put our gifts? I roused Mother by banging on the top bunk above me, and she sleepily assured me that Grammy and Granddad had taken care of that. I eventually went back to sleep.

Sure enough, in the morning, it was apparent that Santa had indeed found us, as evidenced by the full stockings in the family room. There was no fireplace, no chimney, so how Santa got in will always be a mystery. My most memorable gifts that year were a set of large print multiplication flash cards and an alarm clock with “Wake up, Abbie” printed on the front. Andy got an inflatable dummy you could use as a punching bag. I think it was called Socko.

Mother had other relatives in Denver, mostly uncles and aunts, who came for Christmas dinner, along with Uncle Jack and his family. Kelly showed me a similar alarm clock she’d received with “Wake up, Kelly” printed on its front.

After about a week in Denver, we returned to Tucson where we found more presents from Santa waiting: a bicycle for me and a little red wagon for Andy. A few days later, Dad returned from Sheridan and brought me an eight—track player. I’m pretty sure he brought something for Andy but don’t remember what that was.

We visited Grammy and Granddad’s house many times over the years as children and adults. After my grandparents passed, Uncle Jack lived there until his death. Now, someone else is lucky to have this wonderful home.

What was your most memorable family holiday vacation? Please share it, either on your own blog with a link to it here or in the comment field below. By now, Christmas has come and gone, and I hope this holiday was filled with memories for you.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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Saturday Song: Snow

Last week, our weather started looking a lot like Christmas, so I could finally identify with the sentiment in this song. It’s from Bing Crosby’s epic White Christmas. If you haven’t seen this movie, I highly recommend it. In any case, enjoy the song, and have a great Saturday and a merry Christmas.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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