The Trouble with Poetry - Billy Collins

This is one of my favorite Billy Collins' poems.  It is very accessible and doesn't necessarily need explanation or analysis. At the same time, like any Billy Collin poem it has deep meaning.  Let me first share the poem and then some meditative thoughts on this. 

The Trouble with Poetry

Billy Collins

The trouble with poetry, I realized
as I walked along a beach one night --
cold Florida sand under my bare feet,
a show of stars in the sky --

the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank,
more baby rabbits
hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.

And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world,

and there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks.

Poetry fills me with joy
and I rise like a feather in the wind.
Poetry fills me with sorrow
and I sink like a chain flung from a bridge.

But mostly poetry fills me
with the urge to write poetry,
to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame
to appear at the tip of my pencil.

And along with that, the longing to steal,
to break into the poems of others
with a flashlight and a ski mask.

And what an unmerry band of thieves we are,
cut-purses, common shoplifters,
I thought to myself
as a cold wave swirled around my feet
and the lighthouse moved its megaphone over the sea,
which is an image I stole directly
from Lawrence Ferlinghetti --
to be perfectly honest for a moment --

the bicycling poet of San Francisco
whose little amusement park of a book
I carried in a side pocket of my uniform
up and down the treacherous halls of high school.

Extending The Trouble With Poetry to Music

This is a poem how good poetry inspires more poetry.  It does what John Keats says poetry ought to do: "It should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance." 

As Billy Collins states, creatives are a "unmerry band of thieves," feeling sometimes jealous, and at other times dissatisfied with the beautiful art of others. Whether it be poetry, music, or visual art, we attempt to recreate and improve upon what we see, hear, or feel. The act of starting with something beautiful is a calculated risk in pursuit of making something even more beautiful.

I muse about my own trouble with music. When I listening to music that I really enjoy I end up listening to it again and again, a meditative process.  And its not just casual listening; as a musician I tend to disintegrate what I am hear - I can hear the melody, chords, rhythm and bass separately.  I experience a sense of jealousy and a desire to "steal" elements and create my own improved piece. I may use similar chord progressions but change the rhythm or take the ending theme of a melody and create something new. Other times, I may use the beat or bassline as inspiration and recreate the rest of the song.

Inspiration is key to creativity

Inspiration is often considered a key component of creativity, as it can provide the spark for new ideas and projects. Inspiration can come from a wide range of sources, such as nature, art, music, other people, and personal experiences. When a person is inspired, their mind is open and receptive to new ideas, and they may feel a sense of excitement and motivation to create.

Additionally, inspiration can also help to overcome creative blocks and overcome feelings of stagnation or frustration in one's work. Inspiration can provide a renewed sense of purpose and direction, and can help to generate new ideas and approaches.

It is important to note that inspiration is not the only factor in the creative process. Inspiration is the spark that ignites the fire but the discipline and hard work are the ones that keep it burning. Inspiration can be a powerful catalyst for creativity, but it is often necessary to put in the time and effort to develop and refine one's ideas and skills.

Therefore, Inspiration can be a valuable and important resource, but it should be used in conjunction with other creative strategies and practices, such as brainstorming, experimentation, and hard work to enhance creativity.

Inspirational Poets

There are many poets throughout history who have served as inspiration for other poets. Some examples include:

  • William Shakespeare, who is widely considered to be one of the greatest poets in the English language. His plays and sonnets have had a profound influence on literature and continue to inspire poets today.
  • John Keats, who is known for his romantic poetry and his emphasis on the beauty of nature. His work has been an inspiration to many poets in the romantic tradition.
  • Walt Whitman, an American poet who is considered one of the most influential poets of the 19th century. His work, particularly "Leaves of Grass," has been an inspiration to many poets and continues to be widely read today.
  • T.S. Eliot, an American poet, playwright, and literary critic, who is considered one of the most important poets of the 20th century. His work, particularly "The Waste Land," has had a profound influence on modern poetry and continues to inspire poets today.
  • Emily Dickinson, an American poet whose work was mostly unknown during her lifetime but now widely considered one of the most important poets in American literature. Her poems are known for their intense emotional power, and many poets have been inspired by her unique style and use of language.
  • Langston Hughes, an American poet, novelist, and playwright, who was a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. His work dealt with themes of race and identity, and has been an inspiration to many poets, particularly those of the African American community.

This poem reminds me of Mirza Ghalib's Hazaron Khwahishen Aisi where guppies become desires. More desires inspire even more desires. And more and more desires, each one to kill oneself for.  

Unending Troubles

- After Billy Collins

When someone asks me 
to do more of a certain kind 
of composition or video
I am reminded of 
Billy Collins

I am reminded of 
the desires coming out
of Mirza Ghalib's ghazals
one goes and is displaced
by one hundred more

I am reminded of 
the kitten emerging 
from my consciousness, 
the millionfish  swimming 
out of my imagination
in their rainbow colors.

I am reminded of 
a new head of Raavan
replacing the one
that was just fell
by Raam's arrow.

And I am reminded of 
that lingering question:
How will they every end ...
the troubles that poetry 
shares with all art forms.