Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Billy Collins on lanyards and helminthology

I'm reading Billy Collins' The Trouble with Poetry. I love the rich imagery and dashing snark that characterize Collins' poetry -" The Introduction": "And you're all familiar with helminthology? It's the science of worms." It's good commuting reading, there's time to make friends with a poem or two on each leg of my journey. Beside the seriously refusing to take itself seriously "The Introduction" the collection includes "The Lanyard":

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past —
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

That stanza gave me a Proustian push into the past as well. I can see the picnic bench set out at the summer rec program, the spools of plastic strips, smell the warm blacktop and feel the whisper of my seersucker sundress in the early morning breeze that still held a touch of the cool of the night. I can't remember how many of these I made, and as far as I know none survived, but I can remember my delight when I mastered a spiral form, rather than the simple square. I wondered if kids still made these, or if like the translucent plastic flowers we made by dipping wires into a solution that smelled like my dad's lab, they were creations of memory only.

Yes, they are still made. The stuff from which they are made is called by some gimp, the craft itself is called boondoggle or scoubi. Apparently it's recently been a rage in the UK to make zipper pulls from it. It sounds more useful than my lanyards.

Photo is from Shutterstock. Used with permission.


  1. Oh Michelle, I love the subject matter, but I have to say that this bit of writing is beyond gorgeous.

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  3. Lanyard making keeps little hands busy :) and big hands.

  4. I remember making Lanyards as a girl, and how have taught my own twins girls to make as well.

  5. For five years I was transported from hot, humid Florida to the mountains of western North Carolina to Our Lady of the Hills - a Catholic Youth Camp just outside Hendersonville.

    There were two or three nuns who ran the Arts & Crafts (which was my favorite part) and we made some lanyards! Yes we did!! I remember hooking the silver clip to the metal fencing of the side porch and agonizing over which colors to pick on any given day.

    I could stand for hours and weave lanyards. Or so I thought. We also painted Plaster of Paris (how exotic) animals and crosses; wove baskets, learned the rudiments of enameling on to copper discs and all sorts of other early 1970's crafts!

    I still have that knowledge somewhere in my body - and it leapt for joy at the presence of your blog! :)