billy collins | horoscopes for the dead

2 05 2011

PoetryDispatch No. 346 | May 2, 2011


Poetry Workshop Held in a
Former Cigar Factory in Key West

After our final class, when we disbanded
as the cigar rollers here had disbanded decades ago,
getting up from their benches for the last time
as the man who read to them during their shift
closed his book without marking the page where he left off,
I complimented myself on my restraint.

For never in that sunny white building
did I draw an analogy between cigar-making and poetry.
Not even after I had studied the display case
containing the bladed chaveta, the ring gauge,
and the hand guillotine with its measuring rule
did I suggest that the cigar might be a model for the poem.

Nor did I ever cite the exemplary industry
of those anonymous rollers and cutters—
the best producing 300 cigars in a day
compared to 3 flawless poems in a lifetime if you’re lucky–
who worked the broad leaves of tobacco
into cylinders ready to be held lightly in the hand.

Not once did I imply that tightly rolling an intuition
into a perfectly shaped, handmade thing.
might encourage a reader to remove the brightly colored
encircling band and slip it over her finger
and take the poet as her spouse in a sudden puff of smoke.
No, I kept all of that to myself, until now.

[from HOROSCOPES FOR THE DEAD, Random House, 2011, $24]



6 responses

2 05 2011
Local Poets Guild

“….compared to 3 flawless poems in a lifetime if you’re lucky…”


Thank you for this.

2 05 2011
jude, hey

I’ve taken this in three times now and I’m going for at least four more drags, might even hold my breath to insure holding, before I exhale. Dekuji!

3 05 2011
Jean Casey

His grace, wit and wisdom, thanks to Barb Larsen who introduced us, are my life raft in a murky sea of modern poetry. I get his drift…

3 05 2011

I just bought the book myself and am thoroughly enjoying savoring it (when I can–mostly I just devour it).

3 05 2011
Alice D'Alessio

We saw him read from this book (and others) in Madison 2 weeks ago – an audience of 1500 cheering fans, all ages. He told us he was introduced once in Texas by a guy who looked out at the 200-300 people and said “I’m amazed that all these people would show up to hear…poet.” Collins said “I ‘m amazed that 25 million people are watching American Idol.” He was good, as always.

20 01 2015
Bruce Niedt

Just took his workshop in this very place last week. I had forgotten about this poem until he read it on the last day. It was a wonderful four days.

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