Thursday, June 15, 2006

This week's poetry assignment

It's Thursday, and we write something about our connection to poetry. I'm not publishing verse, but will share a few thoughts about my own experience with it.

I trace my re-entry into the poetry world back to Billy Collins and 9/11, of all things.

I heard an interview with Collins on that day (or the day after, memory is fuzzy). He was the Library of Congress Poet Laureate at the time, and someone asked him what poetry would be appropriate to read in the wake of the national trauma that we had just experienced. He replied that we couldn’t do much better than read some of the Psalms.

He seemed such a thoughtful, common-sense sort of person that day, very soft-spoken but heartfelt. He pointed to the Psalms, full of passages both spiritual and poetic. So I determined to read his material.

I liked it. He writes of everyday life, his lines are direct and friendly. Most important, he brings humor into his poetry – something rarely seen in the dense, sometimes obtuse poetry written by many major Western poets over the last three centuries.

He also speaks about the role of poetry. It shouldn’t be so difficult. We work too hard at analyzing it. Poems are wonderful forms of communication, a way to tell a story or reflect on images and ideas; but they don’t have to be over-wrought. My favorite is one of his shortest poems, Introduction to Poetry:

I try to take his lesson to heart in my own material; I don’t always succeed. But we all keep writing.


Dana said...

Oh, this post really resonates with me. I first read Collins in 1999, and he inspired me to begin writing again after a short absence from poetry writing. I love him for all the same reasons you do, and even though my poems have always tended to be serious, I've begun infusing them with lighter (hopefully kind of funny) lines.

I just adore Collins and what he has to say about what poetry should be, do and mean, if that makes any sense.

Thank you for sharing this.

January said...

I'm a big fan of Collins work. He gets tagged as being accessible--as if that's a bad thing. But I think the classification oversimplifies his ability to turn a phrase and have it resonate with a wider audience.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Billy Collins. And I really liked last week's poem.

paris parfait said...

Thanks for the reminder of this particular Billy Collins poem. Three years ago he came to speak to the American School of Paris and according to my daughter, all the students were quite impressed - even the ones uninterested in poetry.