Man in Space Poem by Billy Collins

Man in Space

Rating: 4.5

All you have to do is listen to the way a man
sometimes talks to his wife at a table of people
and notice how intent he is on making his point
even though her lower lip is beginning to quiver,

and you will know why the women in science
fiction movies who inhabit a planet of their own
are not pictured making a salad or reading a magazine
when the men from earth arrive in their rocket,

why they are always standing in a semicircle
with their arms folded, their bare legs set apart,
their breasts protected by hard metal disks.

Joseph Pedulla 25 October 2016

And here we have the obligatory obeisance to the feminists, the poem written by a man about men who are mean to women. This is predictable. It's the modern way. Doesn't Collins know that poetry is not supposed to scold? Poetry does not say, Don't be bad! Only a bad poem does that. Again, this is a fine instance of what a Collins poem does- it is written backwards; that is, Collins starts with some image he sees, say, in an old black and white movie about space. Then he comes up with some cockamamie rationale or back story for that image. Here, the image he began with was space women. Then he worked backwards to the poem's beginning. Collins' reasoning is thus: why are those space women so hard and cold? Of course, it can't be for the reason that everyone else knows is the reason: that they are aliens and therefore do not possess the warmth and romantic feeling earth women have. No. Collins must come up with another reason- one he has truly found in space. It is that men are so mean to them. Okay. Bad men. Don't be bad, you men! But did we not know this already? David Mamet has said something about art that is worth repeating: We don't go to the theater to be told what we already know. We don't go there to be told not to be unkind to lame people, for instance. We already know that. Collins thinks it's mighty perceptive to tell us what we already know. Come on, Billy: where's the big poem?

4 9 Reply
Lantz Pierre 26 April 2017

°°°Doesn't Collins know that poetry is not supposed to scold? Poetry does not say, Don't be bad! Only a bad poem does that.°°° - I find this assertion to be hilarious, but it does lend itself towards helping to explain why there's so much bad poetry published on this site. Too many people here think poetry is an avenue of self-help therapy and write sermons full of platitudes and generalities that can often be summed up as some elaborate rhetorical statement of Don't be bad! But in relation to the Billy Collins's poem here, I think you underestimate all that he doesn't here. Your interpretation is one, and as valid as any other, because what the poem says is pretty trite and cliche. And what it doesn't say is wholly conjecture. Never-the-less, it's interesting to look at the poem's construction. The first stanza is definitely an indictment. I don't know how true it is or how often it happens if it is true, but I don't think the depiction of an observed event is the point of his argument here. It is quite clearly to set up a conflict between man and woman, husband and wife, or probably men and women in general as we are led to extrapolate from the concrete to the abstract. The scenario, as I read it, revolves around the third line, and notice how intent he is on making his point. As if intent is something concrete and observable. It's not. But Billy has a point to make, and he's intent on making it. This is what men do, is what he seems to want to imply here. All men, everywhere. Even the men who produce movies based on the scripts that men write. In the second stanza he cleverly breaks the term science fiction into its component parts by placing them on separate lines. He wants to lead with science, with observable, concrete fact, and then make the switch to fiction and using a story to tell a tale and make a point. Nobody has a world of their own. Most assuredly women do not. Not in the observable, physical space we inhabit. But if a writer, presumably male, creates a fictional world solely inhabited by women, well, isn't that still a man's world since he created it? When we reach the third stanza, having arrived by the facility of rocket science (a male domain) , what is encountered? Is this meant to be part of the fiction, or something concrete and observable? The scene has more of the simple physicality of the opening stanza than of the speculative musings of the second. He's cast the women there as autonomous and real. But what's implied, unsaid is that they are there fulfilling there roles according to the point the man is intent on making. There's an infuriating circularity that makes this poem work, but because of anything that's overtly written there. It's all in what's unsaid. Just as it never really says, Don't be bad! - but you found that message there anyway. If only more of the writers on this site could be less explicit about what they're intent on pointing out in their poems, maybe more of them would be worth the time it takes to read them and to think through the implications.

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Joseph Pedulla 17 December 2017

for LANTZ PIERRE: What is hilarious about my remark that poetry is not supposed to scold? Is what i said true of not? I think you spend far too much time trying to analyze a poem that has nothing to offer anyone interested in the truth about the human condition.

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Edward Kofi Louis 26 April 2017

Their bare legs set apart! ! Thanks for sharing this poem with us.

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Bernard F. Asuncion 26 April 2017

A planet of their own.... thanks for posting....

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Michael Walker 08 January 2020

Women in space are indeed always standing in a half-circle, legs apart and wearing metal disks over their. Such an exact poem.

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Dr Antony Theodore 07 November 2019

you will know why the women in science fiction movies who inhabit a planet of their own are not pictured making a salad or reading a magazine when the men from earth arrive in their rocket, ..a fine poem. tony

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Bijay Kant Dubey 25 October 2019

It is just a robot girl love story. Should the robot girls be loved? The cosmonaut, astronaut girls look like that. They are moving to space so there should not be any love talks. They must like the aliens on their mission averting to be intercepted.

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Ur daddy 19 April 2019

Who else readin from 2019

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billy''s mother 15 November 2018

did you fail grammar class cause your run-on sentence really shows it.

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