The Outsiders

Today, in continued celebration of National Poetry Month, I’m going to share my poem “The Outsiders” here on the blog. This one has a decent bit of history to it. It won 1st place in the Grayson/Logan Prize by the Poetry Society of Texas in 2013 and was subsequently published in their annual prize anthology A Book of the Year.

Then, last year, it was in Merging Visions, the local annual art/poetry collaborative exhibit I participate in. It was accompanied by a really lovely watercolor by Carol Rowley called “Farmhouse at Dusk,” and also published in the catalog of that exhibit called Collections V.

And last but certainly not least, in one of my gutsier moments, I sent it along with a letter and a second poem to Billy Collins. (A line from one of Collins’s poems appears as an epigraph for “The Outsiders.”) Imagine my surprise and delight when he actually took the time to write me back — and even complimented my poem! He said, “I like the mouse-centric one a lot.” You know, it’s not a bad day when Billy Collins says he likes one of your poems a lot. 🙂

Well, I think it’s safe to say that this little poem has had all the thrill it can take, so I’m reprinting here today for you to read. I hope you enjoy!


The Outsiders

“I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out…”

–Billy Collins

From the shed,
the back windows
of our house
glow the warmest yellow,
and I pause,
I don’t remember
ever appreciating
while inside.
As I settle my tools
against the wall,
close the squeaky door,
and crunch across the grass,
I wonder
if this
is what goes through
the tiny hearts and minds
of the shed mice
who live here –
always outside,
looking in.

© Annie Neugebauer, 2011.

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  • Julia Munroe Martin

    I can imagine the thrill to hear back from Billy Collins. Definitely “not a bad day,” a lot more than that! Love the poem, and I can really relate to those feelings (of yours and the mice).

  • Regina Richards

    Another gem and very cool that Collins gave you a nod. 🙂

    • Thank you! He really is too nice, even just to be writing back to individual letters like that.

  • A. B. Davis

    I love this gratitude for “home”, especially when it catches you unawares. You’ve captured it succinctly here, which is a feat. Beautiful poem, my friend.

  • jclementwall

    Love this. I’ve always been fascinated with those rare moments when you glimpse yourself (or your life… or your house) suddenly and fleetingly as an outsider would. Beautiful poem, Annie. And – holy wow! Billy Collins!

    • Thanks so much, j. Holy wow– my thoughts exactly! (I just love him!)

  • Carie Juettner

    I love this poem! I remember reading it in A Book of the Year. And you are so brave for writing to your literary heroes and sharing your work with them. So cool that you received a response from Billy. (You get to call him Billy now, right?)

    • Thank you, Carie! Well, ironically, I was “brave” enough to write him because of what a chicken I was when I met him. >.< I went to see him do a reading and stood in line after to get him to sign a book. When I finally got up there, he was sort of still having a conversation with the person in front of me, and I was too shy to interrupt, so I just quietly handed him my book. He signed it and by the time he was done I needed to step aside for the next person in line. I just left — never even said a word to him. I was so annoyed with myself later that I went home and wrote him a letter. I tossed in the two poems on a whim (maybe in rebuttal to my signing fiasco). I couldn't have been more surprised that he actually answered. So I doubt I'll be calling him "Billy" anytime soon. Calling him by any human words would be a great start. XD

      • Carie Juettner

        Ha! Well, I think this worked out for the best. This was you got to think about what you wanted to say and say it (I’m sure) in an eloquent way. I NEVER feel like I do a good job with those brief signing interactions. So much pressure!

        • True; I always do better in writing. Plenty of time to edit out the awkward, haha. I so envy people with that natural, easy vibe!

  • I always feel happy when I come home to glowing windows. We don’t have mice here. Only rats. They’re big, even compared to NYC subway tunnel rats. TMI? I liked the poem. 🙂

    • Yeah, there really is something about glowing windows. I actually like rats too, but not in my house! Thanks, Lexa.

  • Absolutely lovely!!

  • Another great poem and I love that last image–from the outside looking in. Who doesn’t feel that way sometimes (or often!).

  • Peggy

    Such a wonderful poem! Like so many of your poems, it has an evocative, haunting quality to it…

    • Thank you! “Evocative” and “haunting” are two of my favorite words! 🙂

  • This seems to be a poem about someone who is either on the verge of personal growth or who recently went through a process of growth after hurting someone due to insensitivity. I see the empathy with mice less as “having to do with mice” and more with the narrator realizing there are other creatures with perspectives in the world…and out here, on his/her own (perhaps in solitude because they HAVE hurt someone and have been driven away), the most logical creature to feel empathy with is the mice who would be most likely of any creature to be in the shed. The narrator clearly recognizes the need for connection and once s/he returns inside, they’ll try to connect with whoever they hurt through that same empathy they discovered out in the shed. Very good snapshot that tells so much.

    • I love (love!) hearing reader impressions like this. Thank you, Jay!

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