Friday, March 03, 2017

Poetry Friday: Strange Lands

Today, in honor of Billy Collins' 76th birthday this month, we have an all-Billy episode of Poetry Friday.  Our host, Heidi, suggests that "all who care to will post a favorite Billy Collins poem (or Billy-inspired original)." I've got one of each - one of his and one of mine - for you today.

I've been thinking a lot about photography lately, since I'm doing a year-long photo-a-day project.  For the last couple of years, I've also done a photo-a-day project during Lent, so this year during Lent (which started on Wednesday), I'm posting two photos each day on Facebook, responding to prompts I got here as well as the regular ones I got here.  I'm very much an amateur photographer; my husband bought me a nice camera that is able to do way more than I know how to do, but I'm experimenting and learning, and having all kinds of thoughts about connections between photography and writing, photography and being fully present in the moment, and photography and love.  Maybe I'll develop some of these thoughts further in writing in the future.  

Meanwhile, I picked the Billy Collins poem "Strange Lands" to share today.  This poem is from Collins' 1988 collection  The Apple that Astonished Paris.  In the poem, people back from a trip pass out their vacation photos, "like little mirrors," to friends after dinner.  Isn't that quaint and old-fashioned?  Even though the technology is dated, though, I like what the poem has to say about taking pictures and why we share them with others: "to make them believe we really found / some sweet elsewhere, away from here."  

Here's the poem:

Strange Lands
 by Billy Collins

The photographs of the summer trip are spread
across the table now like little mirrors
reflecting our place in European history.

They are the booty of travel, bordered and colorful,
split seconds that we pass to friends after dinner
one by one to make them believe we really found
some sweet elsewhere, away from here.

There we are, the familiar gazing out of the foreign,
stopped in front of a carved Cistercian door,
or leaning obliquely against a kiosk;
frozen behind a blue and white Della Robbia,
or parked at a café table strewn with phrasebooks,
obscured there in the underexposed shadow of an awning.

Here's the rest, including the travelers walking on after taking a photo, "unfocused, unphotographed...two blurs," as though they really only fully exist when they are documenting their travels.  

I wish Billy Collins would update this poem, but in the meantime, I tried my hand at it.  I sound a bit more negative and cynical about social media than I really am; I enjoy connecting with people that way, but it is, let's face it, a pale substitute for being with our friends in person. 

Strange Lands on Social Media
by Ruth, from

The photographs of the trip are posted,

like little digital gifts,
ready for friends all over to like,
be startled or saddened or angered by,
or even love.
Pics, or it didn’t happen.

See what a good time we’re having?
That’s us, in the pictures,
smiling, or posing ironically duck-faced.
That’s what we ate, what we drank, 

artfully arranged and gleaming,
the walks we took.
Those are the sights we saw,
and you can see them now, too.

We can’t share the smells or tastes or textures with you - yet -
But you can experience some of the sounds in this short video.

Hear those exotic birds?  Those foreign-sounding voices?
(Feel free to share.)

Do you have any comments for us?
If so, we’d like to read them.

We wish you were here,
next to us,
laughing and swapping stories,

spilling your drinks in an unpicturesque manner,
instead of far away,
scrolling through our photos 

on your phone.

Here's today's roundup. 


Donna Smith said...

Remember the slideshows?! Loved your connection and contrast of the two poems. I think yours is right up there with what Billy Collins would do if he'd updated his!

Tara Smith said...

Your poem really speaks to something that has so troubled me about social media, and the practices I've cultivated. It's not cynicism, Ruth - it's truth telling, which is often uncomfortable. Bravo!

Linda B said...

I've been out since lunchtime, then back with my granddaughter, wanted to tell you that I loved IN The Middle too, even bought the second ed. Atwell's words were an important influence in my teaching life. I like that you played with Billy Collins' poem and made a similar one, and updated! Love "(Feel free to share.)" Facebook is an interesting thing to surf, and sometimes I like it, sometimes it makes me tired to see what people share. Then again, I share too. Each to his own. Thanks Ruth!

Mitchell Linda said...

Oh, isn't it so true? We all post these beautiful pictures of places where we are to show that we are. The smells, the emotion, the other sides of those pictures do not show the whole story. I think you have a great commentary here. And, it's not too negative at all. It's a rather incredible observation. Well done.

Violet Nesdoly said...

You've captured the pulse of picture-sharing on Facebook perfectly, Ruth! And I do agree with your reasons for photography: "... having all kinds of thoughts about connections between photography and writing, photography and being fully present in the moment." My camera is an excuse to stop, notice and record. Having my camera at hand makes me more observant. I'm posting to a once-weekly photo challenge on my photography blog this year.

Mary Lee said...

Yes, in person is better, but the sharing is sure a lot of fun (on both ends of the deal)! I am enjoying your Project 365 photos when they pop up in that wonky stream known as a timeline on FB!

Anonymous said...

I think questioning is always positive. FB-ing can be a huge time stealer, though I have to say as an artist and writer/poet, there are so many interesting posts from all my artists and writer friends it keeps me coming back. Have fun with your images, interesting take on the Billy Collins poem!

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

Great job taking BC's poem and making it your own, Ruth. I've always been a bit uncomfortable using FB to broadcast photos or other personal tidbits. I think your poem does a good job putting a finger on why, though I'd never analyzed my reasons before. I don't mind so much when others do it, but for me, it just doesn't feel right.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Ruth, this is a wonderful post, and a new Billy poem for me which feels fresh and nostalgic at the same time, and your update is spot on. I don't mind seeing what's going on with friends, especially the old and faraway ones who remind me of earlier incarnations of myself, but I notice a trend which I do object to, which is public mining of the "hivemind" for answers to questions like "Where can I find a pair of comfortable petite-sized capri pants that won't look dumb with sneakers?" I can't explain why yet, but maybe it's just unedited oversharing.

How can I see your Photo a Day project?

Myra Garces Bacsal said...

I feel so enriched reading so many of Billy Collins' poems! Loving it!