Run Fun Run (After Billy Collins)

I read that some scientists, somewhere,
(it is always that way, isn’t it?
Anonymous proletarians of the laboratory
Without so much as names
Stitched on their lab coat pockets,
All living south of Somewhere, Nebraska,
Driving to work back and forth, back and forth
Like lab mice running in a maze?)

Anyway, these unsung scrabblers of science
Installed hamster treadmills in sheltered places
In city parks, suburban woods,
And far out in the country.
Creaky little wheels of anodized aluminum
The kind kids have for gerbils and mice
When they aren’t allowed a dog.

I wonder did they predict in advance,
That all night long legions of
Chipmunks, voles, rats, squirrels and ilk
Would come in from their trees and burrows
And run and run on the wheels?
All night, for hours on end.
They would even fight over whose turn it was
Like squabbling children.
Apparently they thought it was a lot of fun.

I can’t say how a Country Mouse
Knows to become a City Mouse,
That moment we decide it is obvious
To jump aboard a unknown contraption
And take it for a spin.
(Do I understand better when I see
A fireapple-red Maserati stuck in traffic?)
Is there any hope for us
If we must love our treadmills
So much, just love them so much?



For Feedback Poetry/Billy Collins Writing

12 thoughts on “Run Fun Run (After Billy Collins)

  1. Hi, Q, sorry I didn’t get back to you yesterday. Basically, I had to go up to that London for a meeting – left the house at 5.30 am, got back at 8.30pm. I thought I could be creative on the train, but I just read instead!


    1. As a poem. I like it a lot. I like the tone, I like the message, I like the conversational style. I think it works well in its own right. Remember, I haven’t actively analysed a poem since I did my O’levels 35 years ago, so I’m not good at technical critique.

    2. As a Billy Collins tribute act? Well, I think you catch that dry, slightly whimsical tone. He knows what he’s doing, doesn’t he? But the first thing that struck me was that it looked much denser on the page. The Collins stuff I’ve read has looked choppier, bittier, each thought in its own space. So if you really wanted to Collins it up, I think you would need to edit it massively, and yet somehow keep the tone, and the storyline.

    Does that make sense?

    Liked by 3 people

        1. Yes, I’m going to give that a try. Might take a bit, but I think interesting. We are starting to sort out what are the “elements” of a Billy poem, and separate that from what is “style” (I think). The value being to understand these and have them available in our tool kits.


  2. Personally, I find Collins to be a tough nut to crack. He seems so simplistic, but we are fooled. You have pieces of that here, but I agree with Sarah about the space. For a poet who nails Haiku and short verse so well, this is a challenge. Hmmm – wonder how this whole thought would play out in micro…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Qbit

    You asked us to judge this in terms of being a complete Billy Imitation poem. So I have done that below for you. As a Qbit poem, it stands well on its own.

    Overall impression: I get it, you want to make fun of our rat-race life or our “treadmills”. I think Billy would start with real observations of our real lives and then breaking into a little mouse fiction. You did the opposite.

    Applying the traits Bill often applies:

    1. Valet Title: This title is just a puzzle to the reader, it does not help in starting to read the poem or the content of the poem. So it starts out saying, “I’m going to write in secret language and you have to work hard to figure it out.”
    2. Conversational, yes
    3. First person, yes
    4. Humor, yes. Tinted a bit by a deep criticism of our rat race and the rich.
    5. approachable == fumbled in ways given below.
    6. Billy does not use ALL capitals in front of each line of a poem to make it look like a poem. He writes in sentences and breaks them into stanzas.

    1st stanza
    Why “proletarians”
    Does Billy do long parentheticals (actually inside parenthesis.
    And, coma after first line, then parenthesis, but not continued?

    2nd stanza
    Why “scrabbler” — just for alliteration?
    Funny comment about kids not allowed dog.
    I can’t tell what part of this poem is fiction yet, still lost.
    Billy doesn’t leave you lost this much.

    3rd stanza
    “ilk” , did you mean “their ilk”?
    So by now, I am thinking that the poem is all
    a surreal make-believe. Billy makes his poems very real
    while only adding a bit of surreal.

    4th stanza
    Why the capital letters here for Country, City and Mouse?
    I guess now what this poem is about and now see the “Run Fun Run” but the “fun” makes no sense to me and the parenthetical is just a cute inside joke wink to those that know the reason for writing — got to the general reader. Not a Billy thing.

    Now I will read other comments

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @Sabio

      Those are all excellent observations. I appreciate the level of detail, I know that is a fair amount of work, so much thanks.

      One first thing, the story is true, e.g., about the experiment of putting hamster wheels in parks and the local rodents running on them all night. So I was trying to stick to the “Billy noticing a small thing about the world” edict. Agreed though about your overall point, Billy would have started with his own observation about life, not a 3rd party story. Probably the main thing that makes this feel “Not Like “a Billy Poem”.

      1. Valet Title — Agreed, this bothered me, it didn’t seem right. But I wasn’t sure why.
      6. ALL CAPS — Right! I thought about that a long time ago, but my OneNote auto capitalizes and I forgot to go back and clean it up.

      1st Stanza
      “proletarians” — was meant to pick up the sense of anonymous, thankless workers.
      Parentheticals — no, you are right, that was very, very un-Billy. He does digress and return sometimes, but not for this long.
      Punctuation — I struggled with that, was hard to pull it all together with the long aside.

      2nd Stanza
      “scrabbler” — was both for alliteration, and also to pick up the sense of a rodent scrabbling in the dirt, in a cage, running on the wheel.
      Being Lost — what made it so uncertain that it was fact or fiction? Where did that break down? Was it that the results of the experiment were so surreal as to be unbelievable? Because of course that is what made it so interesting to me! I was depending on the reader accepting what I was staying, otherwise just all sort of a dumb joke. Can you re-read it with the premise as apparently true, and then does it work better? (I say “apparently”, as I have no real knowledge of this other than having read a short blurb on a news site.) Short version though, clearly if I have lost the reader’s faith in what I’m saying, then that is the most un-Billy of all…

      3rd Stanza
      “ilk” — was just a small grammatical choice to leave out “their’. Reading Billy closely he does a lot of small coloring via language. This might have been less Billy-like than most however.

      4th Stanza
      Capitals in “City and Country Mouse” — I assumed that the Aesop fable of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse is widely known enough not to be “secret language”, as you label these types of things. The actual fable is not necessary to the understanding of the poem in any way, just figured most people would recognize the words – even if not the story – by general reference, and would help them pick up that I am talking as much about human beings as about mice.


  4. @ Qbit,
    I found a similar science article to what you are saying:

    So a bland welcoming opening could be such:

    We all run On Wheels

    In a recent experiment, scientist proved
    that even wild mice love to run in wheels.

    Right, because you said “treadmills”, the scientist thing sounded fictitious.

    And “ilk” with incorrect grammar, made be think “Elk” and that you were trying to be more fictitious. The lack of grammar there did nothing but make me stumble without purpose.

    Also, I guess you were billy-esque in the City Mouse, Country Mouse thing because I put that as a negative trait of Billy (in what you call a rubric) — that is “Private Language – elitist” writing to those who know those fairy tales, I guess.

    Like you said, this is un-Billy in the sense also that it is not 1st person, it is non of your personal experiences.

    And your ending may have been like billy too, in that he tries a little too hard to be heavy at the end.

    Parts also not Billy-esques are not “Clear to Mystery” nor “odd Premise” nor “Personification

    Oh, and “scrabbler”, yep, another stumbler to me.

    The only “lost” thing, is I did not think you were serious about the experiment. It could have been made clear and then say “I imagine the mice ….” and drop into fantasy.

    So, will you write a second version or try another poem?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @Sabio – once again, all very good analysis, and I think spot on. I lose the readers confidence as I go, a bit at a time from the very beginning. Much food for thought.

      I don’t think I will rewrite this, not sure it would pay off much. I’ve learned and thought about things much, and am bringing it back in to gestate. I will post in the main thread once I can formulate something coherent, and new poems as they arrive.


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