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Poetry Radio Project

Cartoons and Poetry

Marc Sanchez

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Billy Collins
(Barbi Reed)
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Looney Tunes - What's Opera Doc?
Looney Tunes - Duck Amuck

As a kid, Saturday morning meant one thing: cartoons. Remember that quiet time just after sunrise, when your parents were still asleep? You'd wake up early, maybe pour yourself a bowl of cereal, turn on the tube, and get lost in a universe of the implausible.Billy Collins remembers. His Saturday mornings were flooded with the Looney Toons characters of Warner Brothers. And before he was twice appointed U.S. Poet Laureate, before he'd won awards and written volumes of poetry, Billy Collins was just a boy sitting in front of a black-and-white TV.

Looney Tunes - Stop! Look! And Hasten!


Looney Tunes - Porky Pig's Feat

Billy Collins: You know, if you break it down on the black board, this whole thing about influence, you could say that there are direct influences, and those are the ones that come direct from your own genre. So if you're a novelist, you're influenced by other novelists; if you're a painter, you're influenced by other painters.

And then, perhaps more interesting, are indirect influences, which have nothing to do with the fact that you're a painter or a writer, but come from something outside your own genre.


Maybe the indirect influences are more benign. Because the direct influences, as a poet, are always accompanied by jealousy. You know, you could even substitute the word "jealousy" for literary influence. "Literary influence" is what the professors call it in the classroom, but actually the emotional experience of it is envy. Writers would not be moved to emulation unless they were envious of previous writers. So the little propeller that drives creative work - you can't see it because it's under the water - the little propeller is jealousy. And that's what keeps the arts moving. But don't tell anybody!

The opening theme to "Looney Tunes Merrie Melodies" cartoons is kind of like "The Star-Spangled Banner" for a lot of children of my generation. You'd hear those opening notes, and the glockenspiel kind of cuts in there, adding some extra zaniness. You would be brought to full attention because you knew you'd be treated by this world of animation that was so delightful, and so different from the normal world in which you were plodding around as a kid, scraping your knees and getting into all sorts of trouble.


Poetry for me offers the highest degree of imaginative freedom of any genre of writing. Certainly poetry is not bound to the kinds of laws that guide traditional fiction, such as chronology, plausibility, character development. You can't just have characters streaming in and out of the novel. But in poetry, you are free to jump around in time and space; you are free to slip from one dimension to another.


You know, all the characters bring out various sides to us. Daffy Duck is sort of the manic, blabbering, fearless one. Bugs Bunny is the clever, ironic, sardonic, wry, foxy, outwitting one. And Porky's a little pathetic. He's the only one who's actually married--if that's the state that these characters are in. He's the only one with a life partner, let's put it that way: Petunia, who tends to be a nag. Strangely, there's only one human in this whole thing, which is Elmer Fudd.


My influences now are coming from all different sides. I find that I'm drifting away from subject matter.

There's a satiric element to those cartoons. They were knocking pretension: the waiter in the French restaurant; the handsome bullfighter who takes himself very seriously; the morbid undertaker. All you need is Bugs Bunny to appear on the scene, and everything changes.



There he leans:
cracking wise,
biting his bright orange carrot
bugging the world
speed demon
and master of disguise
he is everywhere at once
and spectacularly eared
he is armed with dynamite
he is the only one
who really knows what's up.



Happy only
when he is gardening alone
far from conversation
and the terrible stammering
far from Petunia, nag and tease
just resting on a hoe
as he contemplates
the blue background of his flat world --
a Zen pig.



He tears across the landscape, blabbering
in lunatic flight
from those who would
pluck his jet feathers
wring the stem of his neck
twist his yellow beak
flatten him under steamrollers
his brain is a gumball and with it
he tears across the landscape, haywire
jabbering and amok
outdistancing clouds of dust.



The mailbox in front of the neat cottage
spells out the unfortunate name.
This morning the homebody
is singing in his sunny kitchen
dum-dee-dum, waiting
for the tea water to boil.
Later he will have his nap,
the enormous pink head
rolling on the pillow
dreaming again of the wabbit,
the private carrot patch.
Waiting by his bed
is the shotgun and the ridiculous hat
for he is the human.


Poems originally appeared in a 1977 chapbook, "Porkface."

More stories from our Poetry Radio Project series


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By Martha Heimberg

    From Dallas, TX, 09/22/2008

    Fun to hear Billy Collins on the joys of Looney Tunes. Collins' best stuff is looney and playful and sudden -- sometimes.

    By Debie Schmitt

    From Cortez, CO, 09/21/2008

    Oh! Thank you Billy Collins! Memories of my brother and me, up early on a cold winter day, pulling a blanket over us and the heat register and watching the Saturday morning cartoons were what pulled me though some serious panic attacks later in life when I needed to focus on something that comforted me. Bugs! Daffy! The Roadrunner! Wiley Coyote! They all helped to heal me and I will never forget them.

    By Michael Burr

    From Little Falls, MN, 09/20/2008

    Marc Sanchez's commentary after Billy Collins' wonderful homage was spot-on ... but I'd take issue with a few points. 1) Looney Tunes (which I also have worshipped since my childhood) were originally created for a variety of audiences, including adults. They were shorts, shown before movies at the cinema. Cartoons today are created mostly for children--with the obvious exceptions of the Simpsons, South Park, Futurama, etc. So we can't really compare Looney Tunes to today's Saturday-morning fare; 2) Saturday morning cartoons in the 70s included things like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, which were the precursors to the "serious" action cartoons that Marc understandably dislikes; 3) A wide variety of pure-fun cartoons literally blankets Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. You just have to look for them. Marc mentioned Skunk-Fu. Other current running zany cartoons include Chowder, Flapjack and of course Spongebob Squarepants; 4) Looney Tunes are available on DVD and VHS. In recent months we dug out our collection of Looney Tunes VHS tapes, and showed them to our kids (7,9 and 11). They all absolutely loved them, and now they are almost as fluent in WB-ese as are my wife and I. ("Why crusher! It's good to see you!" ... "Leopold! Leopold!" ... "Icckity acckity oop!")
    Greatness transcends the generations.

    By Joe Name

    From Roseville, CA, 09/20/2008

    Loved the article. It's too bad WB has pulled the classic Looney Tunes together in such lame and disjointed compilations. They should be grouped by year, director, art director, etc. However, I would like to remind readers, listeners and the author that Yosemite Sam, too, is human.

    By Cherie Cox

    From Charlotte, NC, 09/20/2008

    Thank you for Billy Collins. He brings
    poetry to us, as Pavarotti brought opera. He is a neighbor who comes to share a cup of coffee. We need that.
    Cherie Cox

    By Carl Edgren

    From Matthews, NC, 09/20/2008

    I don't understand why "What's Opera Doc?" always gets hauled as an example of a great Looney Tunes cartoon. It's from Chuck Jones' later period, way past his prime. The characters' eyes have a cutesy, dooey look I find annoying. That style of fine for the characters in the Grinch cartoon, but not for Elmer & Bugs, as far as I'm concerned!

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