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Billy Collins

Billy Collins

Billy Collins has published too many books of poems. Among his several honors are serving as US Poet Laureate and being a pal of Tom Lux.

Tom Lux

Tom Lux always struck me as a guy who lived on the informal side of the line, more at home in a pair of jeans and an aloha shirt with parrots than he would be in a suit and tie. He was as comfortable—maybe more comfortable—on the softball field waiting for a fat pitch to clobber as he was at the seminar table discussing line breaks. So I was surprised one day to hear him complain to me that his publisher once suggested that he use Tom, not Thomas, on a forthcoming book jacket. "The nerve!" Thomas went on. Would they publish Bob Frost, or Larry Ferlinghetti?" Then, remembering the name I use, he broke into laughter with that big laugh he had. "Sorry. I forgot," he managed, slapping my back. So he was Tom on the ball field or at the pool table, but he was Thomas on the page. Tom with a bat on his shoulder, Thomas with a pen cocked in his hand. Using a full name is a sign of respect, clearly, but I think he also enjoyed the ironic contrast between the formality of the name and the wildness of his poems. It's Thomas who starts a poem with the image of wearing duct-taped rat skins for shoes; Thomas who blows a sparrow to pieces with a shot gun; Thomas who imagines plague victims flying through the medieval air. So have it your way, Thomas Lux or Tom Lux. So many of us loved you both, and we will miss you both in equal measure.

Plague Victims Catapulted over Walls into Besieged City

Early germ
warfare. The dead
hurled this way turn like wheels
in the sky. Look: there goes
Larry the Shoemaker, barefoot, over the wall,
and Mary Sausage Stuffer, see how she flies,
and the Hatter twins, both at once, soar
over the parapet, little Tommy's elbow bent
as if in a salute,
and his sister, Mathilde, she follows him,
arms outstretched, through the air,
just as she did on earth.

 

 

from The The Street of Clocks, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001

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