The Effort

by Billy Collins

Would anyone care to join me
in flicking a few pebbles in the direction
of teachers who are fond of asking the question:
"What is the poet trying to say?"

as if Thomas Hardy and Emily Dickinson
had struggled but ultimately failed in their efforts—
inarticulate wretches that they were,
biting their pens and staring out the window for a clue.

Yes, it seems that Whitman, Amy Lowell
and the rest could only try and fail
but we in Mrs. Parker's third-period English class
here at Springfield High will succeed

with the help of these study questions
in saying what the poor poet could not,
and we will get all this done before
that orgy of egg salad and tuna fish known as lunch.

Tonight, however, I am the one trying
to say what it is this absence means,
the two of us sleeping and waking under different roofs.
The image of this vase of cut flowers,

not from our garden, is no help.
And the same goes for the single plate,
the solitary lamp, and the weather that presses its face
against these new windows--the drizzle and the
morning frost.

So I will leave it up to Mrs. Parker,
who is tapping a piece of chalk against the blackboard,
and her students—a few with their hands up,
others slouching with their caps on backwards—

to figure out what it is I am trying to say
about this place where I find myself
and to do it before the noon bell rings
and that whirlwind of meatloaf is unleashed.


  1. Fantastic poem and photo too. Sure doesn't make me long for the old school lunchroom!
    I wrote a poem about my lonely toothbrush when the ex and I separated. This strikes a nearly-universal chord...

    Travel nursing? I need to Google that one. :)

  2. I love that poem! I used to hate trying to "get" a poem that when I taught English, I kind of ignored those exercises as much as possible, and went for exposure to many poems instead of analyzing a few.

  3. As a former English teacher, my previous comment sure is "awkwardly constructed", ha, ha.

  4. AArrgggghhhh.. the endless english lesson, being strangled by the hands of Shakespear's Julius ceasar..... I could never help but think; "I'm sure Shakespear would never have wanted it to be this way.." some English Teachers have a lot to answer for... still find Shakespear a chore :-(

  5. Hi Distracted, love that last line, "that whirlwind of meatloaf" about to be unleashed... gorgeous... sounds like a good description for Iraq ? No trouble understanding what Billy Collins is saying here : in his private life, the meatloaf hit the fan...

  6. This poet and English teacher very much appreciates the absurdities Mr. Collins points out here! I think I just had a "whirlwind of meatloaf" for dinner the other night...

  7. This is perfect. I'm eailing it to myself.

  8. Now that brings back memories. Mind you, for me, I did end up loving some of the poets we studies back then so I guess some purpose was served after all.

  9. I agree; I love to just absorb the words and the picture they paint....not try to figure out what the poet was trying to say as if they didn't already say it!!!!
    Although whirlwind of meatloaf sounds like something I'd rather not explain....being a nurse I know you get it....


Post a Comment

Hey, thanks for your thoughts and your time:>)

Popular posts from this blog

Saturday in CinCity. The CollegeGrrrl Guest Writer Edition.

Sunday in CinCity. The "Three Things I Know About Life...It Goes On" Edition

A Year with EB White