Tarpon, Angels, and Snowballs: Kate Chopin’s The Awakening; Billy Collins’ Questions about Angels; and Miller Williams’ Listen

Dear Reader:

Lots of wind, some snow flakes today and yesterday and plenty of “candid sunlight.” That’s April for you.

256) The Awakening by Kate Chopin, 1899 (hard copy)

Edna Pontellier is married to Alphonse (“Leonce”) with two young boys. A lovely young woman, she summers on Grand Isle, an island in Southern Louisiana (and the site of the annual Tarpon festival – a tarpon is a large, beloved sport fish) and winters in New Orleans.

Grand Isle (A) and New Orleans (Source: Google Maps)

Edna moves through her days languidly, unenthusiastic about much of anything. Robert Lebrun, the son of her landlady, has begun to pay her attentions. But Robert’s always doing that, taking up with the latest married lady – means nothing.

Her husband takes her for granted, like a poorly functioning, but beautiful living room couch – he feels she takes little interest in the boys and needs to be firmer with cook. Her friendship with Robert begins to be something and mean something, and Edna starts to show signs of life over those days and weeks. And then Robert abruptly leaves for Mexico. As the story advances, we see Edna taking control of her life, starting to care about things, beginning to take chances and stand up for herself.

The story follows her, weaving around her and her culture, rich in music, food, art. I hadn’t realized how much the Creole culture is part of this story. I enjoyed reading this beautiful novella, far ahead of its time since it published the tale of a woman becoming independent in 1899. It is so lovely. A great way to start reading Chopin – I know I plan to continue with some of her short stories.

482) Questions about Angels by Billy Collins(1991, hard copy)

I have seven or eight Billy Collins’ books of poems and this is the first one he published. I’m reading them in the order in which they came out.

Collins’ themes in this book include weather, death, heaven, and writing. For instance, a stanza from one poem:

Did you know that it is possible if you read a poem
enough times, if you read it over and over without
stopping,
that you can make the author begin to spin gently,
even affectionately, in his grave?

The Norton Anthology of English Literature from Questions about Angels

This stanza gives you a good sense of Collins’ style – I think of him as moving and funny, making frequent use of profound absurdity to make his point. Don’t you just love that image of Shakespeare or Dickinson spinning in their grave (affectionately! I imagine them with a happy smile on their face) as someone rereads their poem enough times?

Or this stanza:

It is a small noun about the size of a mouse,
one that will be seldom used by anyone,
like the synonym for isthmus,
but they are pursuing the creature zealously

The Hunt from Questions about Angels

His poems are wonderful to read, moving and delightful, causing me to underline passages, fold back pages, mark and remark over and again. Another favorite is: Questions About Angels – this poem starts with the idea that there are so many questions we could ask about angels, why always “how many can dance on the head of a pin?” There are so many other things to ask, such as “Do they sit alone in little gardens changing colors?” and “What goes on inside their luminous heads?”

If you haven’t read a lot of poetry but want to get into it, do yourself a favor and pick up one of Collins’ books – his poems aren’t “hard” but they are still deep, meaningful, funny, and fun.

486) Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry by Billy Collins (2003, hard copy)

Another stanza from poem from this compilation of poems for high school kids that I wrote about earlier. This is Miller Williams’ (Lucinda’s dad) “Listen” a poem that tells the story of throwing a snowball for his dog that breaks in the snow and watching her search and search for it, sure that it has to be there…

The final lines are:

That was this morning, I’m sure that she’s forgotten.
I’ve had some trouble putting it out of my mind.

“Listen” from Poetry 180

If you follow the above link you can read the entire poem on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac and, if you choose, you can listen to the show and hear Garrison read it, beautifully.

My heart aches a bit, like Miller’s, over that image of his sweet dog searching and searching.

Wrap-up

My coreopsis, circa 2005

Happy reading, ruby

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9 Comments

  1. I do love Billy Collins works. He visited our town (Charleston) in the 1990s and I had the pleasure of entertaining him at dinner and playing pool with him at our local slightly seedy but wholly wonderful bar. He is a wonderful poet. And yes, his works turn on the surprise and the odd juxtaposition. Happy reading!

    • Hi Cheryl: Thanks so much for stopping by. Lucky you getting to hang out with Billy – I imagine him as a lovely guy, lots of fun. I used to sit on our university’s speaker committee and I got to hang out with some famous and semi-famous folk. Some were delights, some not so much, but the food was always good! Ruby

      • Ruby, you made me chuckle with that!

  2. Jillian ♣

    I really like Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour.”

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