spotted: new Billy Collins poem

spotted: new Billy Collins poem

Did everyone see the poem by Billy Collins in the New York Times Magazine? It’s here if you missed it, which you might easily have done, since it appears on the Food page. Accompanied by a recipe, no less.

The recipe is titled, “Whole Roasted Sea Bass with Winter Vegetables.” The poem is merely titled, “The Fish.”
Personally I don’t think the recipe adds much, although (spoiler alert!) the fish in the poem does end up getting eaten. The poem is just lovely: funny and sad, in that Billy Collins way. Loneliness and mortality dished up along with the boiled potatoes.
As Billy knows very well, some readers, especially here in Key West, will be reminded of Elizabeth Bishop’s famous poem of the same name. The poets both look their fish in the eyes: in Billy’s case, “one flat, iridescent eye”; in Bishop’s case, two (which is difficult, when you think about it):

I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.

Her poem is long. Too long, the critic Clive James once wrote, cantankerously: “in the reader’s mind the fish is croaking while she runs the micrometer over it, making nonsense of the poem’s punch line”:

And I let the fish go.

“Whereupon,” adds James, “muttering ‘Thanks for nothing, lady,’ with its dying gasp, it undoubtedly sank like a plummet.”

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