Thursday, February 5, 2009

Poetry Friday - Some Salt

I used this poem by Billy Collins in a class I taught today - there's just something about that salt on the tongue.....


I pour a coating of salt on the table
and make a circle in it with my finger.
This is the cycle of life
I say to no one.
This is the wheel of fortune,
the Arctic Circle.
This is the ring of Kerry
and the white rose of the Tralee
I say to the ghosts of my family
the dead fathers,
the aunt who drowned,
my unborn brothers and sisters,
my unborn children.
This is the sun with its glittering spokes
and the bitter moon.
This is the absolute circle of geometry
I say to the crack in the wall,
to the birds who cross the window.
This is the wheel I just invented
to roll through the rest of my life
I say
touching my finger to my tongue.

Elaine Magliaro is hosting the Round-Up this week over at the Wild Rose Reader.


  1. I don't think there is a Collins poem that I don't savour and touch to my tongue at least twice when I encounter it.

    I also like Lisel Mueller's "Love Like Salt."

    What class were you teaching?

  2. I love how he takes such a small action in this poem and turns it into something monumental.

  3. This poem reminds me of my brothers and sisters. We used to play with the salt on the table, which was only second to playing with hot candle wax for annoying my parents. There is something of loneliness and something of family strength in this poem.

    I love your header BTW, has I have been doing a lot of staring out the window/thinking of late.

  4. Love Collins. Even when he's being serious.

  5. Man, I wish I could take your class.

    This poem really does touch something essential -- rather like salt does. There hasn't yet been a Billy Collins poem I've read that I haven't immediately had deeper and larger thoughts about. Lovely.

  6. Sara - the class is a follow-up to a lecture I gave in the summer of 2007 at the Vermont College of Fine Arts residency. It seemed to resonate with a lot of people. A former faculty member, Laura Kvasnosky, organized it - I'm trying to expand on that one-hour lecture - "The Art of the Flaneur" - with writing prompts and a "drift record" - we're meeting three times for two hours, with a potluck lunch after. This kind of thing can be SO much fun. Eleven of us around a table, talking and laughing and reflecting on the topic at hand. I recommend this kind of friend-based gathering to everyone - much more productive for me than constantly workshopping pieces.

    RE: Billy Collins and his poetry. It's true, when BC hits, he hits on all cylinders - there's no one like him for the relaxed,slightly self-mocking, melancholic, laconic tone he's perfected. I do think he gets a little lazy and goes for an easy laugh sometimes and disregards craft, but people love it, so who can blame him? But in terms of poetry, he's at his best (in my opinion) when he goes deep and strange - when his ponderings lead him down complicated paths, as in this poem.

    Cloudscome, I am doing a lot of staring out the window, too, and trying to remember that our best writing often comes from letting our minds wander. By the way, I LOVE the haiku and photo you posted at the Wrung Sponge blog for February 5th. Wow! For people who want to go there, here's the link: