The Schmooze

Poem as a Noisy Mediterranean Duplex

Jake Marmer is the author of “Jazz Talmud.” His blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


About a decade ago I read a Billy Collins poem called “Advice to Writers,” where this former U.S. Poet Laureate suggests:

wash down the walls and scrub the floor
of your study before composing a syllable.
Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way.
Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.

There’s wisdom there: it feels good to write with an uncluttered mind, unburdened by other concerns.

But taking Ajax to your literal and metaphorical surroundings could border on sterilizing. And also, silencing. Sure, Collins is at least in part joking — it’s a funny poem — but I’m sure he means it, too. The poetic voice he is suggesting his readers to summon, in a clean-pristine room, is very much a solo. People, things — out of the way! The poet is talking! (to himself, and being funny - don’t miss out!). A room with scrubbed floors, however tempting, is not where a soul lives, at least I don’t think so.

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Poem as a Noisy Mediterranean Duplex

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