Nightclub by Billy Collins: Examining a taste to words

tatlin (Pixabay.com)

This is one of my favorite poems of all time, another excellent ode to Bepop Jazz. The poem structure is laced with a funky yet modern feel to his voice, continuing in the improvised wording symbolized through the blues. Collins accounts a man sitting in a Jazz bar, enjoying the music among a crowd of like-minded individuals. He notices a trend of the music genre which the singer always plays the fool and never the beauty. His meanings are never hidden; they hang like fruit from a tree, waiting to be plucked and eaten by the reader.

Jazz Pixabay.com

I also relate to him as the “first type” of poet (from last week’s brief), that is, the kind who observes the world and then uses poetry to make sense of it or see the beauty and meaning in it. He ends that thought and begins to exam the scene to detail. Heavy imagery from the cigarette smoke to the loose ice in a whiskey glass. This imagery is continued: “it feels like smoke curling up from a cigarette/someone left burning on a baby grand piano/around three o’clock in the morning” (lines 20-22) & “especially now when everyone in the room/ is watching the large man with the tenor sax/that hangs from his neck like a golden fish” (lines 35-37). He ends by establishing a mutual beauty among the crowd in staying beautiful to themselves. “You are so beautiful and I am a fool to be in love with you/”. Love is a beautiful thing and sometime people are too foolish to realize that. As Collins given his shot at the golden fish, we are all given that chance to face the music, to begin a solo, to realize our own beauty. To understand this poem’s structure and repetition, one must familiarize with classic blues to connect to the poem, as the musician always steers the music. It’s always about someone else in the longing for a bittersweet or especially troublesome love. I love this flip Collins does between being foolish and beautiful.Pexels Pixabay.com

Collins began enjoying the lyrics and then he stumbled upon some greater insight about vulnerability and openness and how those qualities can make one beautiful. Collins humorously points out by adding in that it’s never about oneself being beautiful for then it wouldn’t be the “blues” would it? I enjoy the segmented imagery of this poem. I love the idea of concepts, somatic expression as music: “swirling up into the air like smoke from a late-night cigarette” (20).

I also like the simile of the tenor sax hanging like a golden fish, a very traditional and bulky instrument of the early days of Jazz. And I notice how Collins uses adjectives with precision, intentionally linked to an ending thought ( i.e.-“rhythmic dream” and “living breath”). Overall, the mere sight of this poem or any work by Billy Collins is enough to make me foolish.

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