Billy Collins: A Great American Poet

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“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…” (3); so begins a poem titled “Introduction To Poetry” by Billy Collins. “Introduction To Poetry” is, in fact, the introduction to a collection of poetry called Poetry 180, a program started by Collins during his time as poet laureate for the United States. The aim of this program is to get people, especially teenagers, interested in or reconnected with poetry. Collins selected an assortment of poems that are just fun to read and not meant to be discussed; he says in the forward to the collection, “High school is the focus of my program because all too often it is the place where poetry goes to die” (xvii). Collins was honored with the title of poet laureate in 2001 because of his own outstanding poetry. Billy Collins is considered by some to be the greatest American poet since Robert Frost because he connects with his readers, he makes the mysterious ordinary, and he portrays the ordinary as mysterious. Billy Collins has been called “accessible without being [mundane]” (Pool, par.1). Collins is relatable because he takes situations that most people have been through and puts them into words that are at the same time comic and thought provoking. (Collins once said, “The perfect poem for me to write would be a poem in which the reader couldn’t tell at any point whether the poem was serious or humorous”). In the poem “Forgetfulness”, Collins describes the frantic feeling that comes when a fact floats out of the brain. The person experiencing this tragic but everyday occurrence struggles to bring it back, but “the memories [the person] used to harbor decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain, to a little... ... middle of paper ... ...riousness of this 10-year-old dealing with morality for the first time.” Words, objects, and events take on a deeper meaning through Billy Collins. Collins’ poems aren’t preachy or meant to teach a lesson; their purpose is to help readers be exposed to different ways of seeing things. Collins seems to go through life with his head slightly tilted; he finds amusement in both the ordinary and mysterious, and has a gift for being able to portray his insights in a way readers find accessible and often witty. Nothing is too lofty or insignificant for Collins to write about; he once said, “I think my work has to do with a sense that we are attempting, all the time, to create a logical, rational path through the day. To the left and right there are an amazing set of distractions that we usually can’t afford to follow. But the poet is willing to stop anywhere.”

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