Thursday, October 29, 2020

Whale of a Day

In many ways, climbing into bed has become the high point of my day. That’s when I stream the Billy Collins show, broadcast earlier on Facebook Live.

What’s that? Who’s that?

It’s a guy sitting in his living room with his wife, talking. Both of them talking. He’s the star, presumably, because the camera (an iPhone) is focused on him, but that doesn’t prevent a kind of irrepressible banter from interrupting fairly often.

It’s like you’re there in the room with them. He fumbles for his mic, flips through papers, and books. Plays his favorite music at the beginning and end—sometimes it’s jazz, sometimes Bebop or even the Everly Brothers. Surprisingly often Facebook shuts them down for a contravention of musical replay rules, whatever those are.

He’s always shocked and surprised by this.

He begins by reading comments from listeners, all around the world. Then it’s on to the main event. That consists of him reading out loud and then talking briefly about what he just read.

That will be a poem, in fact, but don’t worry, because this is Billy Collins, former two-time US Poet Laureate, called in the NY Times “the most popular poet in America.”

Billy, as we who listen most days call him, writes in the language we all speak, and his subject matter ranges broadly and usually begins by observing something we think of as ordinary. He’s the poetry version of Leon Hale, so maybe that’s why I like him so much.

Billy has a dry wit, so the broadcasts are funny, poignant, and every poem has a turn toward the end that makes you notice.

He reads the work of many other people, as well. Recently he read several poems by Mary Oliver. And Seamus Heaney is a favorite.

Each poem takes only a moment or two to read, in his soothing voice and you’re never far from a surprising remark.

Billy and his wife Susannah began these homely broadcasts when the Coronavirus lockdowns started in March, and he was required to cancel a busy international travel schedule. He needed something to do that provided relief from all the bad news.

And so we have these low key afternoons. She is the “hair, lighting and makeup” director and he is the man behind the desk, rummaging for the poem he thinks will most interest his viewers.

A free-form half hour or so ensues, punctuated every so often by the thunder of a Florida rainstorm.

The written comments flow as the show proceeds, and if you’re watching it live, you can chime in, always understanding that both of them will see what you have written. Kinda fun.

At the end of last month, he launched his new collection, WHALE DAY, with a virtual reading. You can read all about it on his Facebook page where the last five broadcasts are available for viewing.

It’s such a welcome contrast to the strident conversations that have popped up lately on Facebook. There’s never a political reference, by design, because the broadcast is intended to address the need for a quiet, calm interlude in our increasingly fraught lives.

We get that. It’s one reason why our little publishing company is bringing out two new books next spring, one by Leon Hale and one by yours truly (a short story collection) that we, also, will be chatting about on Facebook, and other social media. So there are oases of tranquility present online, if one looks for them.

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