Billy Collins and Other Sentimentalists

Just finished reading The Trouble With Poetry by Billy Collins (and other poems, the subtitle helpfully adds), and was struck by how metaphor handles are on everything, and how you just need to know how to find them. Most people just look at things right side up, but others — poets, madmen, and Chesterton — know how to flip common objects over, and there, right where you wouldn’t have thought to look, is the small brass handle. You pick the thing up and carry it across the way — none of these things is really that heavy — and drop it with a smallish thud right next to something else, and everybody says whoa. No need to find a handle on the second thing, not unless you intend to move it somewhere.


I really enjoy his grip on these handles, and was amazed at the apparent ease with which he finds them. My wife picked up the book last night and read a few of his poems — quite appreciatively — and immediately found a handle of her own. She saw right off that if you don’t have a handle for the whole world, facility with all the little handles will just turn you into a subdued and whimsical sentimentalist, carrying the burden of particulars to and fro in the gloaming of melancholy.


Unless you know yourself to be seen, all seeing is sentimentalism.

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