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Billy Collins: "Bar Time"

Since 1996, the Academy of American Poets has declared that April is National Poetry Month. In honor of that, I’ll be celebrating poetry every Wednesday in April with a poem by my favorite poet, Billy Collins. So far, I’ve posted “Marginalia” and “On Turning Ten.” Read on for this week’s poem!

As part of the Spring Reading Thing 2009 I decided to read Sailing Alone Around the Room, a 2001 anthology of Billy Collins’ poetry that also includes some new poems. I finally started reading it yesterday and came across the poem “Bar Time” from The Apple That Astonished Paris (1988).

I enjoyed this poem because it takes another look at time, a theme I think comes up in a lot of his poetry. The poem reminds me a lot of “I Go Back to The House for a Book” — one of my favorite poems from Picnic, Lightning — because of the way both look at time as something moving and interpretive rather than static. That’s not really the best description, so why don’t you just go ahead and read the poem :)

Bar Time

by Billy Collins

In keeping with universal saloon practice,
the clock here is set 15 minutes ahead
of all the clocks in the outside world.

This makes us a rather advanced group,
doing our drinking in the unknown future,
immune from the cares of the present,
safely harbored a quarter of an hour
beyond the woes of the contemporary scene.

No wonder such thoughtless pleasure derives
from tending the small fire of a cigarette,
from observing this class of whiskey and ice,
the cold rust I am sipping,

or from having an eye on the street outside
when Ordinary Time slouches past in a topcoat,
rain running off the brim of his hat,
the late edition like a flag in his pocket.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jeanne April 15, 2009, 9:27 am

    This poem reminds me irresistibly (believe me, I tried to resist) of the Sheryl Crow song about drinking beers in a bar with “Billy” and watching the rest of the world scrubbing their cars at the carwash across the street thinking they look “like they’ve never had a day of fun in their whole lives.” It’s fun to be aware of those moments when you’re able to step outside time and observe yourself–and other people–rushing around doing the things that we all think are so vital, and so necessary. A good poem for tax day!

  • Dorte H April 15, 2009, 10:21 am

    “when Ordinary Time slouches past in a topcoat”
    – wonderful! And one begins wondering if we have some kind of choice (running after time to catch up or taking life easy once in a while)

    What the poem reminds me of is the atmosphere of the painting “Night Hawks”.

  • Nymeth April 15, 2009, 1:48 pm

    wow. I am so buying a Billy Collins poetry book. And I’m blaming it on you 😛

  • Rebecca Reid April 16, 2009, 7:29 am

    Thanks to your praise of Billy Collins, I got Sailing Alone Around the Room too! I’m loving it so far. Great collection!

  • Dawn - She Is Too Fond Of Books April 16, 2009, 8:23 am

    I don’t read a lot of poetry; frankly, because I often don’t “get it” right away and am too impatient to work with it.

    This poem is so clear to me – great imagery (for things tangible and not). I GET it!

    Thanks for introducing me to Billy Collins.

  • Jeanne April 16, 2009, 9:19 pm

    If you want to get poems that are more complicated–because sometimes it’s worth it; only poetry can express some of our really complicated emotions–try what I recommend to my students. I call it reading in a circle. Read the poem and immediately go back to the beginning and keep reading until you either understand something (an image, the significance of a pause for a line break) or you feel a glimmer of emotion. Then stop. Try to articulate that one thing you understand or feel. Then see if you can relate other pieces of the poem to that understanding, or that feeling. Sometimes you can put the whole poem together that way. Sometimes you can only put a line or two together, but then maybe it’s time to put the poem away. A line or two of poetry in the brain is good for a rainy day.

  • Sione May 16, 2013, 1:58 am

    What does it signify through self expression?

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