Billy Collins, the 2001-2003 Poet Laureate of the United States, read chosen pieces from several of his poetry collections including his newest book, “The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems,” Monday night in McCrary Theater.
Preferred to be known as a professor who writes poetry, Collins only increased his popularity as the night went on. Opening with the poem “Bright Boats Upturned on the Banks of the Charles,” the imagery brought many back to memories of watching boats and crew teams racing up and down the river.
Freshman Thomas Boyd especially enjoyed Collins’s ability to “take inanimate objects and give them color.”
Collins continued with “January in Paris,” a view of the city from a bicycle and the window of an artist, before reading “The Trouble with Poetry.”
Collins expressed aggravation at how poems seem to encourage others to write poetry. Sophomore Meghan Blume was one of many who enjoyed Collins’ overall effective use of sarcasm. This was one of his overshadowing themes in the poetry he chose to read. “He’s a very talented poet” Blume said.
His second hit was the poem “Litany,” a play on the comparisons in one of Jacques Crickillion’s poems. Both poems share the first two lines, the first of which is “You are the bread and the knife.”
Michelle Murphy, sophomore, said in response to his overall reading, “Collins yokes well, and I mean he takes one idea and easily goes into a tangent which makes sense.”
One of his later comedic poems was titled “The Revenant.” Collins writes of being visited by the ghost of a deceased dog who says he never really liked his owner. The audience enjoyed the dog’s honesty and the irony of human faults seen through the eyes of a pet.
In a question and answer session held Monday afternoon, Collins said he prefers larger crowds for poetry readings because “intimacy is overrated.”
When asked why some students have difficulty understanding poetry, Collins replied that many students make the association that they speak and read English fluently and the poem is written in English.
However, many find they “have no idea what the poem is saying.” Collins attributes this to many poets transitioning from mystery to clarity instead of the other way around.
Collins gives additional advice to young writers, saying, “Not knowing where you’re going is a good thing. Too much bad poetry comes from having a preset agenda.” It is important to understand how to give the reader pleasure through using form or other devices to “keep the poem from disintegrating into chaos,” he said.
Collins is described as an accessible poet because his poetry is both widely available and easy to understand. He thinks this confining category sets his poetry apart.
Collins currently resides in New York and is the poet in residence at Sarah Lawrence University where he has taught for 30 years.
Collins is also the New York State Poet Laureate until 2006. He has eight published anthologies of poems, three of which have broken sales records for poetry. His latest work, “The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems” is available for pre-order online.
Read this article as it appeared in The Pendulum, Elon University’s student newspaper.