Look at that smile, those eyes, you just know he is all about trouble. But in a good way. Billy Collins, happy birthday today, born in 1941, is a poet, a professor of poetry and former Poet Laureate of the USA.
We Irish can claim a stake in him through his father’s people. He is that rarest of creatures, a well loved, and well read poet. In 1997 he recorded 34 of his poems on “The Best Cigarette” and it became a best seller. In 2005 it was released into public domain, so you can listen for free.
I love this poem below. For me it sums up generation after generation of secondary school and university students who are introduced to poetry as a form of verbal torture. Sadly there are many of them who leave poems tied to the chair and never get the pleasure of waterskiing over one.
Introduction to Poetry; by Billy Collins
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 a 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.