Billy Collins

(22 March 1941 - / New York City)

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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 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.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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Read poems about / on: poem, light, poetry

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Comments about this poem (Introduction To Poetry by Billy Collins )

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  • Gold Star - 13,083 Points Chinedu Dike (12/14/2014 3:08:00 PM)

    It's exquisite, carefully crafted, well articulated, subtly penned, ... A masterpiece. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 369 Points Donald Charon (9/20/2014 12:57:00 PM)

    Wow. I would love the chance to sit in a class of yours. Expression of soul, not merely function. (Report) Reply

  • Bronze Star - 6,142 Points Frank Avon (9/18/2014 1:02:00 PM)

    OK, Billy, this is indeed what poetry requires. But as your essays on the need for accessible poems make clear, it's also important that a poem leaves one with a sense of what it really means, and all of yours - every one I've ever read - accomplishes that with perfection. Most poems invite one to waterski on the surface; fewer invite one to feel for the light switch inside. This one, of course, does both. (Report) Reply

  • Bronze Star - 6,142 Points Frank Avon (9/5/2014 12:37:00 AM)

    This poem illustrates why Billy Collins is perhaps the most popular living poet today. He was, IMO, the best poet laureate we have had. He promotes poems that are accessible, and yet thoughtful, polished, challenging us to think. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Ol Boy (7/11/2014 1:42:00 AM)

    Hive. maze, light. Shoulda ended on light.

    Waterskiing. With my pants down. First time I got up they went down.
    I stayed up for a time.5 minutes.
    5 minutes my little white 6th-grade penis dangling.12-person audiences.

    Yes, waterskiing. Hive, maze, light. Waterskiing.

    Interrogation scene moir perry mason.


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

    is the last line REALLY. And it should be capitalized.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    It's about the poem being the poet.

    no more, no less. (Report) Reply

  • Bronze Star - 7,067 Points * Sunprincess * (6/22/2014 8:11:00 PM)

    ...........this sounds like me so long ago....I wanted to tie poems to a chair, interrogate them....and keep them locked in a room until they gave me the right answers.... (Report) Reply

  • Rookie K Ormosi (3/27/2013 7:46:00 AM)

    It’s Not Easy Being Poetry

    Yesterday, I spotted a poem through the window.
    darting across Main Street
    it narrowly escaped the embrace
    of two fervid lovers
    and panted feverishly
    as it ducked into my diner
    where the waitress dreamily
    poured a steaming cup
    of coffee
    right into its lap. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Carlos Echeverria (9/5/2012 10:54:00 AM)

    A poem is always there
    waiting to be caught,
    right out of thin air.

    It can't be sought-
    after,
    and never, ever bought. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Joe Antebi (11/15/2010 6:02:00 PM)

    Literally, Billy Collins informs his readers to read poetry for enjoyment instead of dissecting it and trying to figure out a deeper meaning. Ironically, as a reader, I am still trying to dissect his poem. I realized that the word 'poem' can be substituted with the word 'snake' which completely makes sense. Collins uses phrases such as 'I dropp a mouse into the poem' and ' I want them to waterski across the surface of the poem' which alludes to the characteristics of a snake. Does anybody agree? (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Bill Tirnier (11/6/2010 1:02:00 PM)

    Robert Frost once made similar comments about dissecting a poem. I heard them years ago on an old scratchy record where he was reading his poems at a college. It was wonderful to see similar thoughts put down in verse and to see two great poets voicing the same sentiments. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Bob Beers (12/27/2008 4:07:00 PM)

    DEAR BILLY COLLINS

    Where’s the one
    where you crawl under skin
    pierce the bad man’s heart
    get dirty with the homeless
    save the world from annihilation?

    You waterski and wave,
    dropp a mouse and feel for a switch,
    press an ear and see the light.

    Superman, yes!
    Or is it Clark Kent?

    I see you working at the Planet
    reclined in your favorite chair
    more powerful than a locomotive.
    Feel you forming your next word,
    bending steal with bare hands.

    But, where’s the one that speaks
    of pain, of fear, of vice and sin?

    I want to be your neighbor on Lois Lane
    lined with elm trees and picket fence.

    Very truly yours, Bob Beers


    (Sorry, the system insists on placing an extra p in drop.) (Report) Reply

    Rookie Ol Boy (7/11/2014 1:46:00 AM)

    NICE.

  • Rookie Terrence Loth (10/2/2008 4:01:00 PM)

    Just discovered Billy Collins today! He himself holds up an idea like a multifaceted crystal and as it rotates he translates the light into such evocative and accessable poetry. Wonderful. (Report) Reply

Read all 29 comments »

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