Were you once eighteen, Billy Collins?

Were you once eighteen, Billy Collins?

I’d like to think that you were once as wide-eyed and as foolish as me, that you never got your words in quite the right order, and that somedays you gave up, tired and frustrated.

I’d like to think of you leaning over a notebook, maybe in the middle of the night, holding one of those cigarettes you so often mention, smoke curling up towards the ceiling, ashes spilling onto the desk, smoldering for a few seconds before turning permanently black, white, and grey.

I’d like to think that you tapped your pen against your cheek and that you sighed dramatically like I do when the whole prospect of being a writer seems as pointless as a career in engineering.

I want you to have struggled so that I know that I’m not alone, not so very juvenile, not so very stupid for thinking that maybe I have a future in playing with words.

I want to know that with your dignified wrinkles and receding hairline came wisdom and improvement.

I want to know that when the corners of my eyes droop, when I develop those oddly named crows’ feet, that I too will the sort of person that get recognized by Congress and speaks at The Strand.

And makes eighteen-year-old girls write about how much they want to be like you.

In Which Ella Memorizes Poetry for Sport

“Pippa! Pippa! Pippa! Want to hear me recite ‘Litany’ by Billy Collins?” was the first thing I said when Pippa arrived home from boarding school for her spring break.

And because we were still in that delightful 24-hour period before we start arguing, she agreed. So I recited and she laughed in the appropriate places and my mother noted that I’ve been reciting it for anyone who is in the general vicinity for days now.

I should probably tone down my delight over having memorized another piece, but it’s one of my favorite poems, and I tend to heavily proselytize anything I develop an extreme fondness for, no matter the other person’s level of interest. (This is why at my sixteenth birthday party, I forced all of my friends to watch Miracle, a movie about the 1980s Olympic Hockey Team and paused it every few minutes to explain what was happening. Surprisingly, no one was as quite as enthusiastic about the film as I was.)

Here’s the poem:

Litany by Billy Collins

You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine…
-Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and–somehow–the wine.

I love to memorize. I love the entertainment and comfort of being able to repeat things to myself when I’m bored. My repertoire of facts, geography, sections of books, monologues, and poems means that I never run out of something to do even while stuck in long lines or waiting rooms. Mentally labeling states’ capitals is a lot more fun than Women’s Health Magazine or pamphlets on diabetes.

Plus, Pippa and I often turn it into a competition. We love to recite over each other, trying to outdo the other in volume, length of the piece, and difficulty. Usually, she wins with her rendition of the first fifty lines of the Prologue of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, which she does–I kid you not–in Middle English. Long Shakespeare monologues don’t quite measure up.

I only thought of this today because I was rereading The Fault in Our Stars this past weekend, and in it the main character, Hazel, recites quite a bit of poetry. Unfortunately, my collection of poems is rather small, so I decided that it needed some improving. People much prefer listening to a poem during a long car ride than listening to me try to beat my time reciting the U.S. presidents or list the state capitals in alphabetical order.

So I drew up a list, and I’m going to knock one out every day for the next few weeks. Tomorrow, I work on A Pact by Ezra Pound.

I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman—
I have detested you long enough.
I come to you as a grown child
Who has had a pig-headed father;
I am old enough now to make friends.
It was you that broke the new wood,
Now is a time for carving.
We have one sap and one root—
Let there be commerce between us.

Do you have any favorite poems? I’m always looking for new poetry to read.

As always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Reviews Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I bring you my review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, written for my local bookstore. It’s the first one I’ve ever written, and I had a lot of fun. I don’t think it’s all that bad for a first review.

Seventeen-year-old Prague art student, Karou, has some curious pictures in her sketchbooks. Her “gorgeously rendered and deeply strange” drawings of fantastical creatures tell the story of a devil’s workshop where Brimstone, a wishmonger, grants wishes and strings gems and teeth for mysterious purposes. Trained in martial arts, knife-fighting, and fluent in many languages, Karou’s adventures keep the reader riveted and on the edge of their seat as Karou discovers the ancient battle between the angels and chimera, learns of her past, and meets Akiva, an angel with whom she just might be in love. Every teenage girl will wish she had Karou’s spunk, strength, and independence and a friend as loyal and kind as “Rabid Fairy” Zuzana, and boys will enjoy the fast-paced action and suspense. From the book’s first lines, Laini Taylor reels the reader in with her excellent word choice, quick wit, and loveable characters. Karou’s world is so beautifully imagined that at times it seems real. This book could quite possibly be the next big young adult fantasy series. The book’s conclusion just leaves you begging for more.

I just got the ARC for Pure, a novel by Julianna Baggott, so we’ll see how the next one goes. It looks like it’ll be a good read. Of course, I’m also in the middle of The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, Poetry 180 editted by Billy Collins, and Humor Me edited by Ian Frazier. I’m in such an happy avalanche of books.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Refrains from Griping

There are good days and there are rotten days. Today was one of the latter.

But as days go, it could have gone worse. No one died and no one was wounded. No one got cancer or was diagnosed with a terminal disease. No one got fired and no one got sick. No one even got a paper cut.

But what really made me happy today, one of the few things that did, was discovering something called Poetry 180, which is a program designed by Billy Collins for high school students to read a poem each day of the school year. Naturally, I spent about two and half hours this evening perusing the site.

I thought that I might share the first poem with you in hopes that it might also brighten your possibly rotten day.

Introduction to Poetry

by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

If you click here, you can check out all of the poems. Enjoy!

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Toddlers and Poetry

I’ve discovered my new favorite thing: toddlers reciting poetry.

Litany is one of my all-time favorite poems. If Audrey gets Allen Ginsberg, then I get Billy Collins. Below is a video of him reading and explaining Litany. It’ll make you laugh.