In Class With Billy Collins

Thanks to the Creative Writing Fund and the Department of English at Tulane, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins was able to visit a creative writing class before his reading in the Poet Laureate Series. It was an ideal opportunity to meet the author I’ve read much of the past few years.

I’ve always been struck by certain features that govern his pieces, such as accessibility, the musicality, and a general complacency of the voice, which I assumed Collins must have been aware of when titling a poem: “I Chop Some Parsley While Listening To Art Blakely’s Version Of ‘Three Blind Mice”. I developed a few preconceived opinions of his personality as a result and I’m not ashamed to admit that I unknowingly fell into a trap I think some critics make. That is, conflating the speaker of his poems, the persona of Billy Collins, with the author himself. It’s a juvenile assumption but in the case of Mr. Collins, and his ‘persona’, I still don’t believe the distance between the two of them is that far, but it’s significant to note nonetheless.

During the class discussion Mr. Collins handled questions on the simplicity of his poems with confidence and addressed issues surrounding the voice of his poetry. He was comfortable stating he had no intentions of developing. He explained that he has constructed the persona of his poetry throughout the span of his career and that this voice is convenient for the style of poems he writes. He feels no need to change.

What blew me away about Mr. Collins was the extent to which he has accepted this position. Despite what any critic wants to say about his work, one cannot simply deny the powerful impact he has had, and continues to exert, on the proliferation of poetry. Collins knows his audience and keeps them in mind constantly.

He has become a kind of alternative to what the public may have viewed as poetry, rebelling against the need for complexity and instead looking to meet his audience halfway. His passion for and knowledge of the tradition of poetry is indisputable and he writes from a place of joy in the act of composition, not from melancholia or a need to confuse.

On Monday evening at Tulane in McAlister Auditorium close to one thousand people attended his reading, according to a New Wave estimation. Mr. Collins own unique style and his goal to be understood by anyone whether or not they have knowledge of poetry is undoubtedly the cause of his enormous success.


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