Billy Collins, 2002 Poet Laureate of the United States
“Poetry is like fish: if it’s fresh, it’s good; if it’s stale, it’s bad;–Osbert Sitwell
and if you’re not certain, try it on the cat.”
Humor is Blooming All Over
We took a mindful gaze at Billy Collins – our featured poet for the month of April. His wry humor, witty observations, and conversational style have made him one of America’s most popular poets.
As the 2002 Poet Laureate of the United States, Collins took a particular interest in making poetry “accessible” for the general public, creating an on-line database with the Library of Congress called Poetry 180, which encouraged a daily reading of poetry for students. In his typical humorous way, he describes his purpose as a poet by saying, “Poetry is my cheap means of transportation. By the end of the poem the reader should be in a different place from where he started. I would like him to be slightly disoriented at the end, like I drove him outside of town at night and dropped him off in a cornfield. Poems, for me, begin as a social engagement.”
Collins finds the everyday world both absurd and fascinating and delights in playing along with his readers as he explores his subjects with wordplay, irony, wit, irreverence and subtle satire. He’ll leave you laughing longer than you expected. We chortled over: Forgetfulness, Questions About Angels, and Snow Day. Also, we enjoyed Collins reading Litany, as well as the entertaining animations of his poetry – see the video below! The recitation of Litany by the three-year-old below will make you smile.
Poets use words to summon a smile, encourage a laugh, and delight our days. Listen to Dorothy Parker reading One Perfect Rose, as well as NPR’s Scott Simon celebrating Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s 100th Birthday with a reading of I Am Waiting. We chuckled through Openin’ Night by Shel Silverstein and If by e e cummings. We also shared some favorite poems from our youth, like You Are Old, Father William by Lewis Carroll, Owl and the Pussy-Cat by Edward Lear, and The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson.
- Place yourself in the setting of the poem. What can you see, hear, taste, touch and smell? What sensation stands out for you in the poem?
- What is the pace of the poem? Does it move quickly or slowly? Boldly or timidly?
- What is the voice of the poem? For example, is it relaxed, passionate? Humorous or sober?
- What do you notice or appreciate about the poem?
- What connections do you have to the poem? What chord does the poem strike in you? Memories or experiences that you’ve had?
- How do you feel as you read the poem? What is the mood of the poem – the “emotional weather” of the poem?
- What dazzles you in the poem? What line or image “lights up” for you?
- How has the poem continued its effect on you since our mindful reading?