The Straightener

I don’t know much about poetry. (OK, there’s a lot I don’t know much about.) But at some point during my tenure at the Cullman Times, I stumbled across an interview with former United States Poet Laureate Billy Collins, and it resonated with me. Though I didn’t read even a line of his work for years, I copied a few sentences of that interview and taped them to my computer monitor as motivation. Though I’m on my third job since that time, I’ve carried that paper with me from office to office.

“The real thrill is composition. To be kind of down on your hands and knees with the language at really close range in the midst of a poem that is carrying you in some direction that you can’t foresee… It’s that sense of ongoing discovery that makes composition really thrilling and that’s the pleasure and that’s why I write.”

Years later, I learned that Collins was coming to speak in Birmingham as I edited an article about the event. Finally, I began reading the words he labors over. I attended his reading a few months later, and was overwhelmed by the range of emotion his work invokes.

Tonight I’m sitting at a bar, solo, because the friend I was supposed to meet got caught at work. No problem; I had the newest Collins collection in my purse. And as I read the second poem, “The Straightener,” Collins again cut through the every day and pricked my heart.

“Today, for example, I will devote my time
to lining up my shoes in the closet,
pair by pair in chronological order

and lining up my shirts on the rack by color
to put off having to tell you, dear,
what I really think and what I now am bound to do.”

I don’t know much about poetry, but I know I recognized myself in that.

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