Thursday, November 3, 2011

Horoscopes for the Dead

This is the title of Billy Collins' newest poetry collection. Though I don't love poetry across the board, in fact I'm very picky about it, finding a whole lot of it pretentious and self engrossed to a ghastly extent, I do find a lot of wonderful stuff in Collins.

For one thing he understands rhythm and harmony through and through. And rhythm is where the massive value and weight of writing either works or doesn't. It's not about the content. The meaning is carried on a different wavelength entirely, just as in painting it's not about the narrative of the work. It's about the composition, rhythm, harmony, that all the meaning and significance comes at you. You don't need to look for "something to draw, paint, write about etc" since everything everywhere has significance. It's all about your own ability to grasp and employ that significance.

Here's a wonderful line, and Collins is full of wonderful lines:

recumbent under the random stars

This line is from "Vocation" and fits perfectly in meaning to the rest of the poem which precedes it, like a key fitted into a lock. But just get that rhythm, regardless of knowing the context: dit DAH dah/ dit dit dah/ dah dah dah. And the echoes of the words to each other, under with random, the leading edge rs, the almost silent rs balancing each other. The last three syllables exist in music, too, where three big beats replace smaller beats in previous measures, in the form of a hemiola (Cookie, thank you for reminding me of that term!). It's just, oh well, read the poem! read the whole collection, it's easy reading in one way,and very deep reading in another way.

The title poem is what made me notice the collection at the library this morning,and reading it was so accurate to my own experience that I wanted to write about it in here. Every morning I read the horoscopes for HP, HS and me, and still read HPs even though he exists no more physically.

It was a minor pleasure, as long as he was able to read and enjoy, every morning as we ate breakfast, for him to read my horoscope and laugh gently as it described the hellbent onward rush of my approach to life. He used to notice the horoscope because it was always next to the bridge column, and I used to open and fold the newspaper for him to see the bridge, after his hands failed him and he couldn't manage it for himself. He was hugely amused when I made an artist's book and daily for a month cut out and stuck in my horoscope, then looked back to see if any of it had happened in real life.

So the poem in this collection about what he needs to look out for today in his stars, and what he need not worry about any longer and how the concept that he has "pierced the enormous circle of the zodiac" is all penetratingly true of the thoughts of the survivor. I continue to read his horoscope daily, not sadly or longingly, but out of interest and memories that are often fun to play with.

Memories do come surging back all the time, some of them unhappy, many of them nothing to do with HP, but his death seems to have awakened all kinds of early memories of encounters, disappointments, history. The kaleidoscope is still turning and changing its appearance, as memories and experiences are coming down gently into a new configuration, the new normal.

This onion will never be fully peeled.


  1. Very engaging and though-provoking read. I enjoyed it.

  2. No, it won't, but this sensitive and thought-provoking post was delightful to read on several levels - not the least of which is that it gives us a chance to see your healing process. Keep soaring!

  3. Billy Collins has long been one of my favorite writers. At his best he leaves the reader more than a bit to chew on, and even when he's poking gentle fun at something, there's layers there.

    Tending someone 24/7, helping them find the path in their dying, cannot but change you. And change you again when you finally emerge from that long journey, knowing you did what needed to be done.

    Nice post, Boud. thank you.

  4. Very definitely something to think about. Maybe it's a good thing that 'this onion will never be fully peeled' because onions tend to cause too many tears.


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