The Populists’ Poet

by | Nov 9, 2006

Connect Savannah is running an interview with former Poet Laureate of the United States, Billy Collins, who will give a reading in Savannah next Tuesday night.

Here are a couple of poignant excepts from the interview:

I think that poetry is something that takes place after prose has been exhausted. I would include political thought and psychology and any other discipline or school of thought that would find its expression in prose. When all of those possibilities are exhausted, that is where poetry occurs. It’s trying to express things that cannot be expressed in prose. I tell my writing students, if you can say what you are trying to say in a letter to the editor, or in an opinion piece, or in a letter to your girlfriend, they all means stop writing poetry.

I think poetry in the last 40 years has inched its way into the center of culture. I think it was marginalized, largely due to the esoteric work of people like Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot because it was so difficult to understand. I think seriousness identified it with difficulty. I think that linkage has been broken. Poetry doesn’t have to be so difficult, it doesn’t have to be so serious either.

[via Largehearted Boy]

[UPDATE 11/15/06] Rarely does the appearance of a poet fill a high school auditorium with attentive listeners, but such was the case last night in Savannah. Billy Collins, held the audience in his grasp, eliciting hearty laughs throughout his performance, for his comic delivery is perfectly on key.

Here’s one the poems he read (click here to listen along):


The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.