CITIZEN-EDITOR

Quite some time ago, I decided to improve a Billy Collins pome, in order to illustrate the complacency and torpor afflicting the current practice of this degraded craft; or perhaps it was for the fun of it. Not that I’m not also making a serious point about the supreme requirement of word-choice re: pooetree.

Billy Collins is beloved for his mediocrity (mediocre in the way of an old man’s favorite slippers); his work’s a treat for people who may or may not be excellent in realms other than those of the reading or writing of pooetree. I was considering making this pome-improvement thing into an ongoing feature… but that was when I thought I had vistas of free time spread before me. So how about this re-run…?

THE POME REMADE

relive the past

(the original pome)

Lines Composed Over Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey

I was here before, a long time ago,
and now I am here again
is an observation that occurs in poetry
as frequently as rain occurs in life.

The fellow may be gazing
over an English landscape,
hillsides dotted with sheep,
a row of tall trees topping the downs,

or he could be moping through the shadows
of a dark Bavarian forest,
a wedge of cheese and a volume of fairy tales
tucked into his rucksack.

But the feeling is always the same.
It was better the first time.
This time it is not nearly as good.
I’m not feeling as chipper as I did back then.

Something is always missing—
swans, a glint on the surface of a lake,
some minor but essential touch.
Or the quality of things has diminished.

The sky was a deeper, more dimensional blue,
clouds were more cathedral-like,
and water rushed over rock
with greater effervescence.

From our chairs we have watched
the poor author in his waistcoat
as he recalls the dizzying icebergs of childhood
and mills around in a field of weeds.

We have heard the poets long dead
declaim their dying
from a promontory, a riverbank,
next to a haycock, within a copse.

We have listened to their dismay,
the kind that issues from poems
the way water issues forth from hoses,
the way the match always gives its little speech on fire.

And when we put down the book at last,
lean back, close our eyes,
stinging with print,
and slip in the bookmark of sleep,

we will be schooled enough to know
that when we wake up
a little before dinner
things will not be nearly as good as they once were.

Something will be missing
from this long, coffin-shaped room,
the walls and windows now
only two different shades of gray,

the glossy gardenia drooping
in its chipped terra-cotta pot.
And on the floor, shoes, socks,
the browning core of an apple.

Nothing will be as it was
a few hours ago, back in the glorious past
before our naps, back in that Golden Age
that drew to a close sometime shortly after lunch.

–Billy Collins (1998, Hollander)

_

(suggested adjustments)

Lines Composed Over Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey

I was here before, a long time ago (how about lose “before”, “a” and “time”?),
and now I am here again
is an observation that occurs in poetry (and cut that “is”)
as frequently as rain occurs in (“to”) life (as though it can occur elsewhere; try “Portland”).

The fellow may be gazing (stronger minus “may be”)
over an English landscape,
hillsides (“hills”) dotted (“tufted” would have been nice) with sheep,
a row (“rows”) of tall trees topping the downs (don’t think “tall” is necessary; specific type of trees more vivid),

or he could be moping through the shadows (try: “or he’s moping toward shadows”)
of a dark Bavarian forest (do we need those “shadows” in the “dark”?) ,
a wedge of cheese (“a sweating cheese”) and a volume of fairy tales
tucked (“pressed”) into his rucksack.

But the feeling is always the same.
It was better the first time.
This time it is not nearly as good (how many times can we say “time”?).
I’m not feeling as chipper (ugh) as I did back (lose “back”) then.

Something is always missing (those chiming “ings”)—
swans, a glint on the surface of a lake (as opposed to on its bottom),
some minor but (why “minor but”?) essential touch.
Or (lose “or”) the quality of things has diminished (without that “has” it might have sung).

The sky was a deeper (“fleshy” would be cooler), more dimensional blue,
clouds were (lose “were”) more cathedral-like (lose “like”),
and water rushed over (“smoothed”) rock
with greater effervescence (Schweppes?).

From our chairs we have watched
the poor author in his waistcoat (“the author in his rags”)
as he recalls the dizzying (“blinding”) icebergs of childhood
and mills around (“wheels” instead of “mills around”) in a field of (“through waist-high” instead of “in a field of”) weeds.

We have heard the poets long dead (try “long-elapsed”)
declaim their dying
from a (the) promontory, a (the) riverbank,
next to a (by the) haycock, within a (lose “within a”; “the” )copse. (grandiloquent-yet-flat: a paradox?)

We have listened to their dismay,
the kind that issues from poems
the way water issues forth (or just plain “issues” or how about “pours”) from hoses,
the way the match always gives its little (extraneously folksy adjective) speech on fire.

And when we put down (“drop” instead of “put down”) the book at last,
lean back, close our eyes (“eyes shut”),
stinging with print (ourselves or our eyes?),
and slip in (“and finger”) the bookmark of sleep,

we will be schooled enough (lose “enough”) to know
that when we wake up (lose “up”)
a little before dinner
things will not be nearly (lose “nearly”) as good as they once (“once” is extraneous) were.

Something will be missing (“something will be missed”)
from this long (lose “long”), coffin-shaped room,
the walls and windows now
only two different shades of gray,

the glossy gardenia drooping
in (“over”) its chipped terra-cotta pot.
And on the floor, shoes, socks,
the browning core (“spine”) of an apple.

Nothing will be as it (lose “it”) was
a few (lose “a few”; use “just”) hours ago, back in the (lose “back in”) glorious past
before our naps, back in (lose “back in” again) that Golden Age
that drew to a close sometime shortly (lose “sometime shortly”) after lunch.

–Billy Collins (1998, Hollander)

_

(new version of pome)

Lines Composed Over Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey, Improved

I was here, long ago
and now I am here again
an observation that occurs in poetry
as frequently as rain occurs to Portland

The fellow gazing
over an English landscape,
hills tufted with sheep,
rows of Ash topping the downs,

or he’s moping toward shadows
of a Bavarian forest ,
sweating cheese and a volume of fairy tales
pressed in his rucksack.

But the feeling is always the same.
It was better the first.
This is not nearly as good.
I’m not feeling as here as I did then.

Something is always missed:
swans, glints of lake,
some essential touch.
The quality of things diminished.

The sky was a fleshy, more dimensional blue,
clouds more cathedral,
and water smoothed rock
with greater tumult.

From our chairs we have watched
the author in his rags
as he recalls the blinder icebergs of childhood and
wheels through waist-high weeds.

We have heard the poets long-elapsed
declaim their dying
from the promontory, the riverbank,
by the haycock, the copse.

We have listened to their dismay,
the kind that issues from poems
the way water pours from hoses,
the way the match always wastes its speech on fire.

And when we drop the book at last,
lean back, eyes shut tight against
the sting of print,
and finger the bookmark of sleep,

we will be schooled to know
on waking
a little before dinner that
things will not be good as they were.

Something will be missed
from this coffin-shaped room,
the walls and windows now
only two shades of gray,

the glossy gardenia drooping
over its chipped terra-cotta pot.
And on the floor, shoes, socks,
the browning spine of an apple.

Nothing will be as was
just hours ago, the glorious past
before our naps, that Golden Age
that drew to its close after lunch.

–Billy Collins/ Augustine (1998, 2010)

Sure, that “blinder icebergs” is gratuitous but it’s more interesting than “dizzying icebergs” and the rest of the pome is much spiffier now; it’s almost fuckable. Glad I could help, Billy!

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