Friday, November 14, 2008

It's easy to quit smoking. I've done it hundreds of times. Mark Twain

There were some comments made about the Diane Arbus photo
I posted titled Two Women at the Automat and the fact that they
both had cigarettes in their hands, a rare thing today. Fortunately,
smoking is not the fashion rage it once was. I loved "smoking"
candy cigarettes when I was about five. They came in those cute
little real cigarette style boxes. I had all the sexy, glamorous hand
motions down to a tee, which made my grandmother extremely
mad. I'll have to confess I did smoke my first cigar last year, one
of those cute little Irish Cream numbers, just for fun, of course.
Some of the most romantic movie scenes are built around the
lighting of cigarettes. Two that immediately come to mind are Bette
Davis and Paul Henreid in Now Voyager and Roger Livesey and
Wendy Hiller in I Know Where I'm Going. I love when Livesey and
Hiller stretch out the windows for a light and their hands accidentally
touch. Sigh. How fun is Gloria Swanson's quirky finger cigarette
holder in Sunset Boulevard? ((Max!!)) And I adore the easy going
Joseph Cotten puffing his enchanting trade mark smoke rings in each
of his films. But, putting all the glamor aside, it is quite sad that many
of these stars, as well as those we knew who were smokers of that
generation, had their lives diminished by so many years as a result.
I am very happy to say that I never picked up the habit, glamor or not.

There are many that I miss,
having sent my last one out a car window
sparking along the road one night, years ago.

The heralded ones, of course:
after sex, the two glowing tips
now the lights of a single ship;
at the end of a long dinner
with more wine to come
and a smoke ring coasting into the chandelier;
or on a white beach,
holding one with fingers still wet from a swim.

How bittersweet these punctuations
of flame and gesture;
but the best were on those mornings
when I would have a little something going
in the typewriter,
the sun bright in the windows,
maybe some Berlioz on in the background.
I would go into the kitchen for coffee
and on the way back to the page,
curled in its roller,
I would light one up and feel
its dry rush mix with the dark taste of coffee.

Then I would be my own locomotive,
trailing behind me as I returned to work
little puffs of smoke,
indicators of progress,
signs of industry and thought,
the signal that told the nineteenth century
it was moving forward.
That was the best cigarette,
when I would steam into the study
full of vaporous hope
and stand there,
the big headlamp of my face
pointed down at all the words in parallel lines.

Billy Collins
"The Best Cigarette"
Sailing Alone Around the Room


  1. Oh, what a wonderful poem, and that photo is fabulous! I, too, am sooo glad I never took up smoking. I have no willpower, and I know I would never have been able to quit. I like your new Willow photo, too! ;)) Great shot!

  2. Nice poem, yes... I don't smoke...On Your new photo, "the numeric" is pretty, but You too, Lady Willow !

    Have a beautiful day !

  3. I don't miss smoke in offices and buildings anymore, that's for certain! Yuk. But yes, they did seem quite glamorous with some women but far too stinky!

  4. Beautiful photo that I knew, and beautiful text.

    I was a heavy smoker, I loved cigarettes.
    For several years now, and without missing, I smoke from time to time a cigarette in the window on the evenig. And, but more rare,sitting at my desk after satisfaction of a drawing or something else. And without guilt.

    (There has always been non-smokers among the people I love and obviously I do not smoked in their presence.)

  5. Willow, good ol' Bette could smoke YOU as a cigarette and you would not have given a damn, she, alongside Katherine, one of the more sensuous on-screens smokers of all times.

    The poem is such a beauty. It's the type of verse that you let slide down your throat like honey.

    Thank you very much for this spin-off. I hope you're enjoying your book.

    Greetings from London.

  6. That fabulous Billy Collins poem could convert a non-smoker (if he/she is susceptible to romance!).

    I remember those candy cigarettes; they were the only cigarettes I've ever smoked. My husband, on the other hand, is a dedicated cigar smoker. I disapprove of his habit, (on the obvious health grounds, of course), but it does create an opportunity for fabulous gift-giving . . . beautiful Chinese ashtrays, smart leather cases which hold three cigars, glossy wooden humidors.

    Have you watched "Mad Men?" I always feel slightly sick after vicariously inhaling all of that smoke for an hourf!

  7. Fortunately smoking is not something that I ever took up. Being both a singer and an asthmatic, smoking would be fatal for me. Although, I must admit that I love the aroma of a good pipe tobacco, and I have smoked a few clove cigarettes now and then.

  8. Now Voyager...what a fab film.

    Fantastic photo for your post, too.

  9. I was so enamored with their eyebrows and hats that I didn't even notice the cigarettes!

    I can remember when cigarette commercials were still on tv..they were either made to look very sexy or very manly on a cowboy. :)

  10. Bee, yes Collins could very easily convince one to take up smoking. He had me craving one after I first read this poem!

  11. Great poem, photo and thoughts. My ex is now struggling with lung cancer and has at last stopped smoking. My son, watching him struggle with lung cancer, has stopped smoking. My family is filled with smokers, my brother, my SIL who recently died of lung cancer, my Dad who lived to be 86. Every boyfriend I've had has been a smoker. Hmmm, what does all this say?? I myself am not a smoker and since most of my friends are not smokers I have spent years not having to breathe in smoke except when visiting the above family members.

  12. Love the new photo of your profile...and yes there is something sexy about a rugged man with a cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth, the squint of the wrinkled, timeless eyelid as the smoke danced into it's vision, he not aware of it's being, as it's a habit necessitated...ahhh, memories of my 'X'...the Marlboro Man...don't miss the smoke (or the stress)...I never succumbed to the fashion.

  13. That's weird. I was watching Sunset Houlevard the other night, and I was mesmerized with Gloria Swanson's cigarette holder. And then I remembered my mother had one just like it and was very elegant, charming and funny. And then I remembered what cigarette smoking did to her and to my father too. That part isn't so elegant.

    Do yuo ever watch Mad Men? They smoke like crazy on that show, and it all just seems so normal.

    But, yes, smoking was certainly sophisticated and sort of debonair, wasn't it?

  14. I meant Boulevard. But you knew that. :-)

  15. Who would believe that a picture and a poem about smoking would be so beautiful! Lovely post! Brilliant, actually. Except now I have smoke in my eyes nd cnnot typ...

  16. I had never read that poem before. Thanks for sharing...You know,
    I smoked in college but mercifully never formed a severe habit. When I quit, it was quite easy for me. Now, giving up coffee when I was pregnant? Oh my...That's a different story ... Talk about difficult...

  17. Willow,
    I so love the poem, for it describes my tobacco experience to a T.
    I never started smoking until I was eighteen and in the Navy. I told myself that I was only going to do it 'til i graduated bootcamp. I was sure I could quit anytime.
    Thirty two years later I finally quit. I wanted to quit ten years before that but couldn't drum up the courage.
    The few that tasted good were off set by the thousands that tasted like crap.
    Still, it was sexy, suave, debonaire and macho. No, no!
    It wasn't, it wasn't, no really. ;-)

  18. Oh dear, all the things and romantic moments I misses out on by having given up the habit when I was five.

  19. Willow - loved this poem - thanks

  20. Regularly my sister and I would put our dolls down for a nap and sit down ourselves to a pack of candy cigarettes with warm water in our blue willow china cups...we were living the "life"!! ha Love Billy Collin's poem.

  21. Wendy Cope

    Giving Up Smoking

    There's not a Shakespeare sonnet
    Or a Beethoven quartet
    That's easier to like than you
    Or harder to forget.

    You think that sounds extravagant?
    I haven't finished yet --
    I like you more than I would like
    To have a cigarette.

    (That Wendy Cope is good)

    when I was young and flash I used to like smoking those cocktail cigs called Sobranie. I'd try and colour match them to my clothes. My, aren't young people daft?

    Great blogging, Willow

  22. French Fancy, you are not going to believe this, but I almost added this same Wendy Cope poem to this post but didn't want to overload on the poetry! Love Wendy Cope!!

  23. Well... an Irish cream cigar sounds just nifty! I smoked a couple clove cigarettes in college but that's the extent of my smoking experience as well.

  24. Said that too many times .. pneumonia was the answer for me ... it sure made breathing hard even well after I was 'well'


  25. Coco Chanel always had a cigarette on the in all the photos I've seen. How come she could always look glamorous, even in a cloud of smoke??????

  26. Oh wow, what a smokin' post!!

    Like you, I'm so glad I never picked up the habit. It's so hard to quit.

    A friend of mine who went to charm school in Florida in the 1950's said they were trained in how to smoke like a lady. That included rules like never holding the cigarette close to the face, french-inhaling, and steadying the hand of the man who lit your cigarette with your opposite hand.

    For heaven's sake!!

  27. I've never smoked myself, which is a bit odd as I was surrounded by heavy smokers when I was young.

    A girl I used to know was a serious chain-smoker (tabbing one unfiltered cigarette off another). She switched to Marlboroughs (back in the seventies and eighties there was this urban myth that Marlboroughs were slimming, not that she needed it).

    Bogie and Bacall.

  28. We used to play with those candy cig's too. I'm surprised I didn't end up a smoker.

    I love all those movies you quoted. They're my absolute favorites.

    Hey, you've got 46 people following you now. The press is on ... ha ha :o) ♥ ∞

  29. Paul Hendreid! My mother fairly dissolves at the mention of that name. "Now Voyager" is a wonderful Sunday afternoon escape, is it not?


  30. I just saw on your book list that you've read Charmed Life by Lisa Campbell. I read that a couple of years before, although I purchased it in Britain and it was entitled Title Deeds at the time. But, really enjoyed it! What did you think?

  31. You know how hard it is to quit smoking? About as hard as it is to start flossing your teeth on a regular basis....and with that...have a great weekend.

  32. Pamela, yes, I did enjoy "A Charmed Life". Campbell's childhood was intriguing. Also a very sad and touching story. She obviously wrote the book to achieve a certain amount of closure after the death of her father.

  33. Great poem.. thanks for sharing.

  34. Ah the romance of the illicit cigarette......
    How disgusting they are
    how entrancing
    I still steal the occasional Gitane when I can get hold of one.....
    French cigarettes -- what sophistcation
    how pernicious
    I love the idea of learning how to smoke like a lady at a charm school.
    Of course a real lady would NEVER smoke in the street

  35. Smoking used to be part -- a very large part -- of my identity. And as accurate and wonderful as the Billy Collins poem is, it's very hard to read, even now, nearly 10 years since I quit. There was a lot to like about not smoking that the poem conjures. But I have my grandson to thank for giving me something I know I like more. When he was two and the only grandchild I had, I knew watching him grow up was going to be far better than any cigarette I'd had or would have. And now I've also got four others I'm watching grow.

    And that is a great new picture, Willow.

  36. I meant to say a lot to like about smoking that the poem conjures. Maybe it says something that I put the not in there.

  37. Before I even read a word, I must tell you how wonderful everything looks. Your new avatar is evocative and mysterious and beautiful. Your site looks just amazing. I can't wait to poke around your links. I'm ready to go exploring and spend a while in your world. It's good to be back.

  38. OH!!!!!!!! And your new banner image and tag line. YES!! Beautiful.

  39. I just adore Billy Collins. And, what is it about smoking that is just so darn glamorous. When I was a kid playing dress up, I would imagine myself in a slinky black dress, blood red lips, and one of those long cigarette holders. Can you please tell me about the image? Where did it come from? It's perfect for this post.

  40. Thanks, Relyn! The photo is from Flickr images. I thought it was so glamorous and perfectly captured the thought I was trying to convey.

  41. After 3 years and 45 days of being a non smoker I thought about what it might be like to have one, just one more smoke. It was just a thought mind, but testament to the power of evocative poetry!

  42. Chantix, the medicine manufactured by Pfizer Incl. is meant for triggering off smoking cessation and as it is an FDA approved quit smoking medicine, you can administer the anti-smoking drug without any hesitation and successfully get rid of nicotine addiction. However, significant chantix tidbits available at clarify that the medicine is meant to be taken only after getting hold of a Chantix prescription from the doctor.


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)