“It is possible to be struck by a meteor
or a single-engine plane
while reading in a chair at home….”
Those are the opening lines of Billy Collins’ poem “Picnic, Lightning,” part of an exhibition of public literature at the New York Botanical Garden. Throughout the garden this holiday season one finds Collins’ evocative poems, printed on large signs that also include an etching of a locomotive from New York Central & Hudson River Railroad, bellowing smoke as it chuffs along. I went there yesterday to see the famous holiday train show and the new Native Plant Garden, which opened in May. Trains and gardens: my favorite combination. With a heavy heart after Sunday’s devastating derailment on the Hudson Line, the visit was comforting in surprising ways.
Last week I wrote about the El Anatsui’s magical artwork on the High Line, Broken Bridge II, a site-specific piece that inspired not just because it was beautiful but because it so perfectly belonged in — and to — its landscape. In the Bronx today there is literature in the garden, and it brightens and informs everything you see around you. Another poem on the winding path, “Winter Syntax,” equates the mechanics of language — its units of grammar and sound — to the elements found in nature: “Bare branches in winter are a form of writing….Every lake is a vowel, every island a noun.” [continue reading…]