Tuesday, October 9, 2012

When In Doubt, Consult Billy

One of the things we talk about in my workshops is writing poems about poetry.  I typically discourage this as the poems often don't have much chance of lift-off--they tend to be fallback poems when students can't think of anything to write about.  My argument is usually that the topic of poetry isn't going to result in a fabulous poem that's going to ignite us, or help us see the world in a fresh way.

But, of course, my little theory was put to the test by the fabulous Billy Collins.  I had written this comment on a student's paper a few weeks back, and on a whim thought I better surf to see if any great poems about poetry had lately come to light.  My first hit was this poem by our former poet laureate, which immediately made me eat my words.

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for the light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

-        Billy Collins

Just fabulous, isn't it?  I love the way his mind makes these perfect leaps and as we land on each stepping stone we recognize it immediately, as some part of our world--something we haven't yet named, but know intimately.  I love moments like this between reader and writer and poem.

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