a grouse with completely feathered feet


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The Billy Collins file

Over Easy

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Take "Osso Buco":

I am swaying now in the hour after dinner,
a citizen tilted back on his chair,
a creature with a full stomach--
something you don't hear much about in poetry,
that sanctuary of hunger and deprivation.
You know: the driving rain, the boots by the door,
small birds searching for berries in winter.
But tonight, the lion of contentment
has placed a warm, heavy paw on my chest....

Collins's praise for the pleasures of being lazy, tired, and well-fed is natural enough. What is strange is to suggest that these pleasures are virtues, as though there were something especially meritorious about having eaten a good dinner. But the note of self-congratulation here is unmistakable--the sly use of "citizen" sounds it--and Collins points to its source: it is that such simple sensual pleasures are "something you don't hear much about in poetry." Specifically, it is something you don't hear much about in modern poetry, which has been strongly anti-bourgeois. Rhetorically, then, Collins ranges himself on the side of the reader against "poetry," which doesn't want him to enjoy his dinner. This way, poet and reader can have both sensual pleasure and self-esteem; they can have their osso buco and eat it, too.

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