15 April 2014
“Unashamedly Middle Class”
Poems can often be so personal that people either strongly love or dislike them. I have never been a huge fan of poetry, for the simple reason that most poetry I have read has been assigned to me in an English class or something similar. For the most part poems have always seemed so dense to me, like a puzzle you’ve got to decipher. In fewer words, poems have always intimidated me. That is most definitely the number one reason I gravitated to Billy Collins, “Schoolsville”, as easily as I did. This poem is a humorous and slightly absurd take on his days as a Professor. Collins has described his style as being, “suburban, it’s domestic, it’s middle class, and it’s sort of unashamedly that” (Poetry Foundation). His dry sense of humor, slight hopelessness, and obvious stereotypes are what really caught my attention while reading this poem. Even though the tone of this poem is clearly humorous, that doesn’t take away from the somewhat hopeless theme. This is a personal reflection of Collins life now that he is a retired teacher. He is taking inventory of what was and how things were for so long. He achieves all of this while taking the reader through this imaginary town he has created.
The imaginary town consists of two types of people; the professor (Collins) and the rest of the population being his students. He begins by using vivid imagery to create a mental image of this absurd and imaginary town. In using phrases like, “paper landscape” and the way in which he describes the “white colonial” home he lives in the reader can so easily imagine is small town made of paper buildings. Collins uses a great deal of humor and sarcasm to convey his maybe hopeless feelings towards the situation. Collins uses a hyperbole to describe one student here: The girl who signed her papers in lipstick
leans against the drugstore, smoking,
brushing her hair like a machine.
Obviously, the girl was not actually signing her papers in lipstick but she seemed to be so into her looks that she might as well have been. Another obvious theme in this poem is Collins sense of hopelessness.
Though he conveys the poem in a humorous manor, the reader cannot help but notice the sense of hopelessness that is apparent in the descriptions of his students. He uses a vast amount of stereotypes to show to use how simply predictable this town seems to him. The students turning in term papers fifteen years late, not walking with a purpose but in a zig zag formation. These are all things that students can easily identify with. When read through the eyes of a student this all seems so humorous. But when read by Collins it is all so hopeless.
Reading this unusually humorous and insightful poem by Billy Collins has given me and new liking for poetry that I am so interested to dive into. I now know that poetry doesn’t have to seem so intimidating and complex. Words can be simple and “Middle Class” and still reach out to the reader and impact them in a light and amusing way.