Billy Collins

(22 March 1941 - / New York City)

Introduction To Poetry - Poem 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.

Comments about Introduction To Poetry by Billy Collins

  • Ernest Makuakua (1/29/2016 4:11:00 AM)

    true sometimes we just have to find the meaning to understand what the poem is about
    simply because we write with a motive

    thanks for sharing love it.
    i invite you to read my new poem. What is poetry to you
    (Report) Reply

    7 person liked.
    2 person did not like.
  • (1/25/2016 8:19:00 AM)

    Pretty much sums it up. And then you got people trying to tell everyone what some of this surrealistic type material written by Ashbury and Stevens is all about and none of them can arrive at a concensus. It is nice to see something written in plain English about the subject. (Report) Reply

  • Wes Dixon (11/25/2015 3:07:00 PM)

    Yup...that's what I remember from 8th grade English Class! ! ! (Report) Reply

  • (10/29/2015 7:22:00 PM)

    When I was younger, about 10 or 15 years ago, I don't know I have lost count, I thought that poetry had rules and what I was writing was faulty or just simply rubbish... What time has taught me is that there are no rules in poetry, no fouls to commit, there is only your naked soul, laid down right there, exposed. Only this time it felt more secure than ever... (Report) Reply

  • (9/9/2015 9:15:00 AM)

    This man no poet nor fine artist.His writings are quite bland and without panache.-Albert George Vinny (Report) Reply

  • (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

  • (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

  • (9/5/2014 5:52:00 PM)

    An introduction to poetry indeed! Very true. They just want to beat meaning into poetry (Report) Reply

  • (9/5/2014 11:34:00 AM)

    no truer words have been spoken or written about poetry.. (Report) Reply

    Joseph Pedulla (10/25/2016 6:59:00 PM)

    Blah, blah, blah. Are you serious? No truer words ever spoken or written about poetry? How much have you read? Collins' poem here is actually the opposite of what poetry is supposed to do for us. We are VERY MUCH SUPPOSED TO TRY TO UNDERSTAND ITS MEANING! ! ! The idea that we can enjoy the aesthetics of an artistic entity without arriving or trying to arrive at a meaning is absurd and insulting to the intellect. Of course we don't want to analyze something to death, but Collins exaggerates that point far beyond what is necessary to arrive at the truth of what we are supposed to do with poems. A good poem certainly DOES have a meaning, one intended by the author. The idea that we are to swim around in a poem and bump up against its verbs and nouns and grope for a light switch to illuminate the commas is very imaginative and colorful, but it hardly touches what poetry does for us. If only Collins were a poet, he would understand, but he is not one. i say again, he is not a poet. A true poet is desperately trying to convey a meaning, one that is possible only through a certain conjoining of words, positioned in a certain way, a certain order. The words, for the poet, must be chosen very carefully for their sound and length and for many other considerations. But for Collins, somehow a poem has only an idea, a quirky, clever, cute little mental gymnastics. Then he puts it into lines and somehow expect it to graduate to poetry, but it does not. Sorry for the negativity, but truth is better than sycophantic bowing. Collins thinks poetry is just a quirky or unusual thought about something, an original take on a very simple idea. For example, he will start with an ordinary thing like The Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe; then he will whip up insincere and untruthful cogitations about it, questions and perceptions that no one in his right mind ever came up with. something like this: I was sipping tea the other day when I happened to look at a shoe- how could the Old Lady ever have lived in a shoe? My mind runs on to contemplate how small her children must have been to fit in there. Was her husband a cobbler? Did the family suffer from athlete's foot? Wouldn't walking be redundant? Running? And on and on and on. Pablum. But he's not done. Then he versifies it by putting it into lines. And voila! A poem, he says. No, I say. Pablum. Nothing but pablum. Baby food served to toothless infants. Well, I, for one, don't play that game. Give me Robert Frost or T.S. Eliot or Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman. I have no patience for this poetaster.

  • Pranab K Chakraborty (9/5/2014 10:05:00 AM)

    Innovative idea. And for this excellence should be honored. (Report) Reply

  • (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

  • (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

  • (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

  • (1/3/2014 7:04:00 PM)

    Reminds me of teaching days! (Report) Reply

  • (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

  • (10/29/2012 12:32:00 PM)

    Great poem! I love it! (Report) Reply

  • (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-
    and never, ever bought.
    (Report) Reply

  • (9/5/2012 7:09:00 AM)

    you have described poetry in a pleasurable and interesting way...beautiful (Report) Reply

  • Nurain Ali-balogun (10/8/2011 5:54:00 AM)

    Nice poem; more than nice actually. (Report) Reply

  • (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

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Read poems about / on: poem, light, poetry

Poem Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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