October 11, 2006

She Was Just Seventeen by Billy Collins

Billy Collins has just had published a little "chapbook" of haiku with the witty Beatles-do-haiku title of She Was Just Seventeen.

Collins, former United States Poet Laureate, has been a longtime haiku writer and promoter. The book was edited by Lee Gurga, editor of Modern Haiku Press, who published it.

I have heard him say that he likes the "little box" that the haiku form puts you into because it gives some direction.

Look/listen to his poem "Japan" (text & audio of Billy reading it) where he talks about how one haiku can weigh on the mind.

At readings, he sometimes points out that we pass the 17 syllable structure in other places: Mother Hubbard, the opening lines of The Beatles' "Let it Be", and this example of two college students he overheard talking:

When he found out he
was like oh my god and I
was like oh my god

I'm also a practitioner of the haiku form and I enjoy the little box a lot more than some of the bigger poetic boxes. Still, I know that haiku gets pretty shabby treatment in the U.S.

I really enjoy Collins' poetry, and I know that printing isn't cheap - but - doesn't $20 dollars for a 36 page book seem a bit much?

We'll see. It'll probably be the "best-selling haiku book of 2006" - which may not be a tough race most years.

Here are two from the collection-

Mid-winter evening,
alone at a sushi bar—
just me and this eel.

Awake in the dark—
so that is how rain sounds
on a magnolia.

Billy Collins will be reading at Seton Hall University (South Orange, NJ) on November 8, 2006.


  1. How many haiku do you get for $20? I hope it's more than 36.

    Has success spoiled Billy Collins?

  2. Collins is great! Funny & fine and terrific to see & hear live! Attend if you can - I assume the SHU event is free...

  3. Yes, the reading at Seton Hall U is free.

  4. whoa - I'd like to go to that reading just to ask him where they get off charging that kind of money for a little chapbook.

    I clicked on the Amazon link you have here and they want $45 for the book!

    I'm sure Billy doesn't set the price but he must have some say in what it sells for - and I'm sure he gets a bigger cut from a sale.

    What - is it a collectible already? No wonder haiku gets a bad rap in America...

  5. The pricing of that book is due to the artistic nature of the binding and cover of the book. I have a copy and it is beautiful in every way. I'm sure Billy doesn't set the pricing on it, but it's not a paperback copy of Nine Horses or The Trouble With Poetry, it's a collector's book. It won't be reprinted. I'm glad I have my copy!


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