By: Nikki Gollinger
The Poem “Child Development,” by Billy Collins is another poem revealing his wonderful light hearted sense of humor. He has such a wonderful way of writing his poetry to appeal to any audience and that will make you chuckle to yourself. He is a very creative and enthusiastic writer and writes on a very broad spectrum of subjects. He has a way of making every day common things into a hysterical form of comedic writing. This poem is about children developing and learning to be judgmental and gaining the knowledge of name calling. He forms this way with his poem that makes you see how as children, we use name calling as a form of being bratty of course, but also to show our understanding of the people in our surroundings.
In the beginning of the poem, he introduces his way of saying that we all enter this world of name calling just like prehistoric fish grew legs and learned to walk on the land. That it is inside all of us and is naturally put into the formation of us as human beings to learn this form of bad mouthing at the age of three. He says that everyday new insults are added and they yell them from knee level with their little faces showing their challenging expressions. He uses names like dumb goopyhead, big sewerface, and you poop-on-the-floor as a way to show you how entertaining their insults can really be when you think about it. He relates this to trash talk that drunks would use in a bar to upset an idiotic adult and says “nothing Samuel Johnson would bother tossing out of the pub, but then toddlers are not trying to devastate some fatuous Enlightenment hack.”
He states that they are just tormenting their fellow peers or trying to gain the attention of the adults in their lives. That they mean no actual harm with this way of being, but it’s a way to get their feelings out and to try and get awareness, whether it is negative attention or not, it’s still all the same to them. It shows in the poem his relation to the children’s minds and how they see adults in saying that “they are just tormenting their fellow squirts or going after the attention of the giants way up there with their cocktails and bad breath talking baritone nonsense to the other giants.” This part of the poem is relating to the adults and parents of the children having a cocktail party and how at least children call each other names to their faces while adults smile and pretend to one another when they are face to face, and wait for them to leave before talking garbage, saying rude offensive things about them, and basically backstabbing one another. He says they are “waiting to call them names after thanking them for a lovely party and hearing the door close.”
The poem concludes with saying that we save our anger or tempers for inanimate objects, such as “an errant hammer, tire chains, or receding trains missed by seconds,” that unlike children who just blurt it out to one another as they see fit. And that even though we discipline our children for this atrocious behavior and tell them they are in trouble for this offensive way of being to one another, or in some cases disrespecting adults. They then think and realize to themselves that they do the same thing, just behind closed doors, or when the person turns their back, or at an object that doesn’t have emotions and can’t talk back to them. In the poem he writes that, “though they know in their adult hearts, even as they threaten to banish Timmy to bed for his appalling behavior, that their bosses are Big Fatty Stupids, their wives are Dopey Dopeheads, and that they themselves are Mr. Sillypants.” This poem is so humorous in the way he compares adults and their behavior to that of children’s and in some ways they truly will never grow up.