Bill Murray was the first person to introduce me to the poet Billy Collins. That is, Billy Murray was the voice introducing the poet Billy Collins on the Billy Collins Live CD that I’d borrowed from the library. The intro track is about 5 minutes and 46 seconds and Bill Murray is charming and funny as usual, but I was surprised to find the man reading the 24 poems that followed to be just as, if not even more, charming and funny than the comedy legend that introduced him.
Collins wants you to have fun with poetry and explore it with a child’s sense of wonder. He takes the capital “P” of poetry and pulls its big nose. In his poem “An Introduction To Poetry,” he encourages students to “walk inside the poem’s room / and feel the walls for a light switch.” And to be exuberant, “I want them to waterski / across the surface of a poem.” Collins has often said that his humor is a “door to the serious.”
Collins was the United States Poet Laureate from 2001-2003. He held the position during the September 11th attacks – the seminal event of my generation. And wrote his poem “The Names” – which memorializes the victims of 9/11 – a year after the attacks. At first, Collins has said, he wasn’t sure he could write the poem – it’s not exactly the sort of theme Collins usually tackles.
Collins writes about simple things that bring him joy. He writes with a droll hypnotic flow about things like walking the dog or cutting vegetables. It’s not surprising that Collins writes haiku – the Japanese short form poetry that captures the mysterious beauty of the ordinary. Collins has often said in interviews that “poets don’t have to go through a windshield to feel grateful to be alive.”
Billy Collins makes an appearance at Elizabethtown College tonight at 8 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. His latest books Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems and an illustrated poem Voyage are available on Amazon now.
See Collins read a few short poems with animation during his TED talk. And for some local flavor, here’s his poem, “Fishing on the Susquehanna”