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Poetic Heretic

admit1ll.jpgSome difficulty is warranted and other difficulty I think is gratuitous. And I think I can tell the difference. ~ Billy Collins

I don’t like a lot of poetry, even though I started writing it in my bedroom as a teenager, and even though when I do enjoy it, it can take my breath away. For the most part, poetry has been an acquired taste that I am still acquiring. So much of it, even now, either doesn’t engage me or goes over my head, which is why when I find poetry I like, I am thrilled.

At the beach last week, I browsed through The Best American Poetry of 2006, an anthology edited by recent Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Seeing as how Collins is one of my favorite poets, I wasn’t surprised that I liked more poems in this particular anthology than others I’ve read, as evidenced by poems I check marked, pages I folded over, and poems I read out loud on the beach to Joe.

Collins’ poetry has been described as having wit, whimsy, and charm. But mostly it’s referred to as accessible; a word that Collins takes issue with because it makes him think of ramps for “poetically challenged people.” He prefers the word “hospitable” and says that poetry should be “easy to enter,” like a building. Once inside, all manner of imaginative challenges can occur.

In the anthology introduction, Collins explains how he chose the poetry he did, and he does it in a way that is eerily phrased like something I would say: “I’m bored by poems that are transparent from beginning to end, but I am quick to put down poems whose opening lines make me feel I have walked in on the middle of a Swedish movie being run backwards with no subtitles.”

Collins’ poems have the easy cadence present in poetry rooted in the oral tradition. I wasn’t surprised to learn that he is of Irish descent, a race of people said to have invented poetry. As an Irish American myself, I suspect one of the reasons that Collins’ work resonates with me is that we are genetically related.

I like Collins' poetry for the same reason I like Richard Brautigan’s poetry or the music of The Crash Test Dummies. It’s quirky, set to a good beat, and tends to have a surprise twist. Anybody who writes a poem titled “Taking off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes” and talks about dead people in glass bottom boats watching our heads gets my attention right of the bat.

HERE is the very first Collins’ poem I read (read by Collins). By the second poem HERE and then the third one HERE, I was hooked.


I don't like poetry at all but I love Billy Collins. We have his recording of "the lanyard" which is worth reading if you are a mother. I also like his poem, although I don't remember it's name, about how people deserve to go to the heaven they believe in.

I read a lot of poetry. However, I have not read Collins. From your description, I know I will!

Glad Michele sent me here today!

Haven't read that anthology although Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes has been on my wish list a long time. I've got a couple of his books.

Like his term hospitable. He's a good speaker, that one. Polished sound-bite mind. Even dark by times.

Did I ever tell you Brautigan was the first poet I fell in love with?

Yes, I remembered that. Not too many people seem to even know who he is.

Most of those Best of American Poetry collections are pretty stale. I have a few in my collection of books, but I almost never have returned to them because I've been impressed. However, with Collins compiling the poems in the 2006 edition, I may have to check it out. I especially loved his Poetry 180 books. Now I'm off to check out your links to his poems.

i love poetry, all flavors. these by collins are a treat.

Thanks for introducing me to Billy Collins. I just found this one and love it:

Fishing on the Susquehanna in July

Your comment, Musing, reminded me of what Collins said here: Someone once called me an “indoor nature poet,” which is a charge I would have to cop to.

sort of like My Jesus ?Cheers

I loved poetry while in high school and college, but, for me, it is like a big meal. I seem to be avoiding those these days. Now that I have more time and a less stressed mind, I want to start reading poetry again. But I am not good a just reading it, I need a mentor to guide me along.

Just make sure you keep the cicadas out of your poems...

For me the word is bucolic. Thanks for lending me the book, Mara.

Tabor, I think poetry classes should start sprouting up.

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