Wednesday, 29 July 2009


I listen to The Writer's Almanac religiously and repeatedly, though I hardly ever remember anything I hear and am often (rather too often) surprised by my own ignorance in my supposed academic field. Once in a while a line or an image will stick and if I don't look it up at the time and make a note of it, going back through all the podcast episodes to find it again can prove difficult - depending on how much detail my sieve of a brain has preserved.

Anyway I'm glad I was able to dig this one up, because I'm a fan of meta-textual poetry (I'm sorry if that makes me sound like a ponce - what I mean is poetry which talks about the act of composition), of playing with form, of Petrarchan love, and of anything which briefly brings the Middle Ages to life. The Almanac gives a rather good introduction to the sonnet, which explains some 'inside-jokes' for anyone unfamiliar with its history and devices.


All we need is fourteen lines, well, thirteen now,
and after this one just a dozen
to launch a little ship on love's storm-tossed seas,
then only ten more left like rows of beans.
How easily it goes unless you get Elizabethan
and insist the iambic bongos must be played
and rhymes positioned at the ends of lines,
one for every station of the cross.
But hang on here wile we make the turn
into the final six where all will be resolved,
where longing and heartache will find an end,
where Laura will tell Petrarch to put down his pen,
take off those crazy medieval tights,
blow out the lights, and come at last to bed.
- Billy Collins

[via The Writer's Almanac and Billy-Collins.Com]

*incidentally, thank you, Billy Collins, for putting your poetry online. I'm not sure if you make all your poetry so freely available but I sure am glad that this one is there.