Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry
Billy Collins has said that a poem should be like a carnival ride: as soon as it is done, you want to get right back on and ride it again. So, click on the link below, and take a ride on a few of his poems.
Now listen again, and watch for what occurs between the first two poems. There is a rather astonishing moment when Collins physically reacts to the Juan Ramón Jiménez passage he quotes as the epigraph to “The First Night.” He is clearly still bowled over by that line, despite having read it many times.
As we listen to Collins’ response to Jiménez, we can understand why he compares a poem to a carnival ride. A great poem or a great line continues to thrill us, regardless of how often we return to it. Part of that thrill can be in coming face-to-face with a potentially terrifying thought the poet has articulated with power and clarity. A good poem draws us back to relive that experience.
Collins has large numbers of readers eager to return to their favorites of his poems. Yet, he taught and wrote for decades before finding those readers. He has joked that after college he wrote like a “third-rate Wallace Stevens.” Only later, he has said, did he develop the confidence to risk writing with clarity. “Clarity,” he has said, “is the real risk in poetry, because you are exposed.”
A Billy Collins poem typically starts out gently enough, his self-deprecating humor leading us forward. But a poet willing to expose his feelings about mortality and death also exposes ours. Like a carnival ride, once his poem has brought us safely back to earth, we can laugh at how easily frightened we are.
“Greek and Roman Statuary,” “The First Night,” and “High” appear in Billy Collins’ most recent collection, Ballistics. To view a second video of Collins reading at the 2008 Poetry Festival, or any of the 60 readings by other poets, visit the Dodge Youtube channel. A generous sampling of his poems and a detailed biography can be found on the Poetry Foundation’s Billy Collin’s page.
Please use the “Share your thoughts with us” box below to share other resources you may have found for this poet. In this way, we can build together a mini-wiki-encyclopedia on the 2010 Festival Poets.
Return in the weeks ahead as we continue to profile the 2010 Festival Poets.
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The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark is October 7 – 10
For more information, visit the Poetry website.