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An Introdution To A Poet: Billy Collins

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An Introduction to a Poet: Billy Collins

Billy Collins is one of the most credited poets of this century and last. He is a man of many talents, most recognized though by his provocative and riveting poetry. As John McEnroe was to the sport of tennis, Billy Collins has done the same for the world of poetry. Collin’s rejected the old ways of poetry, created his own form, broke all the rules, and still retains the love and respect of the poet community. Collins has received the title of Poet Laureate of the United States twice and also has received countless awards and acknowledgements. He has achieved this through a style of poetry that is not over-interpreted and hard to understand to most, but that of the complete opposite, his poetry is hospitable and playful.

Many of Billy Collin’s poems concern the act of writing, be it a response to someone else’s work or a discussion of the poems themselves. His poetry is less threatening to the non poet community because his poetry is more transparent than others. His poems don’t usually have a deep underlying meaning that needs to be dwelled upon to understand, but rather simplified thought that can be understood by just reading it once. Collin’s poem After Reading Some Tales of the Hindu Gods is a prime example of this:

After Reading Some Tales of the Hindu Gods

“She looked into his mouth and saw the whole universe displayed therein beyond his oral threshold. --Bhagavata Purana

Usually, when I would lock my elbows

on the bathroom sink

and open my mouth wide in front of the mirror,

I would see teeth and a quivering tongue

and that little glistening punching bag

that hangs from the roof of the mouth.

But now, I look past all that,

past the factory of mastication

into the darkness of the throat

where you can see universes created

and destroyed, world spinning in and out of being,

a cosmos blossoming then closing its petals.

I never understood why anyone

would want to be a dentist until today,

but back in bed, reading the book of the ceiling,

I still do not understand why anyone

would choose to be a podiatrist

or work in a brightly lit store that sells mattresses.

The poem is Collin’s response to a story that he had read, it simply explains that he understands Bhagavata Purana’s perspective on the mouth being a universe. Once Collin’s looks back past all of the mastication in his mouth, he sees the universe mentioned in Parana’s excerpt, the darkness of his own throat. The darkness is seen as potential creation, but also destruction. Collin’s playfulness shines through this poem especially. Once he knows the wonders of the mouth, he finds a new curiosity in dental work, but still doesn’t have a clue why Podiatrist like to work with feet, or why anybody would want to sell mattresses. His condescending views on both professions tell the reader that he doesn’t like to over interpret anything in his poetry.

The element of humor and playfulness Collins’ adds to his poetry helps diminish the stereotype that poetry is droll and complex. The humor found in his poetry can be understood by most who read it, unlike many poems where the reader needs to be educated to understand the complexity of the humor that lies within it. Collins’ pulls back the curtain in his poetry and lets the reader really see the main points. To view the parturition of a Seamus Heaney poem will induce bewilderment on the reader, but Collins’ makes it a part of his playfulness that is so common to his style, as in Sonnet:


All we need is fourteen lines, well, thirteen now,

and after this one just a dozen

to launch a little ship on love's storm-tossed seas,

then only ten more left like rows of beans.

How easily it goes unless you get Elizabethan

and insist the iambic bongos must be played

and rhymes positioned at the ends of lines,

one for every station of the cross.

But hang on here while we make the turn

into the final six where all will be resolved,

where longing and heartache will find an end,

where Laura will tell Petrarch to put down his pen,

take off those crazy medieval tights,

blow out the lights, and come at last to bed.

Collins’ pokes fun at the structure of a sonnet, but does it in a humble way. He uses clichÐ"©s like ship on love’s storm-tossed seas, mocking the very corny and emotional aspects of a sonnet. Collins’ also mocks the creator of the Pretrarchan sonnet, Francisco Petrarch, by writing in the voice of Francisco’s wife Laura. She tells him to put down his pen and come to bed, her condescending attitude towards his sonnet once again shows Collins’ playfulness in his writing. Collins’ criticizes the difficulty of writing a sonnet in modern language by saying, How easily it goes unless you get Elizabethan/and insist the iambic bongos must be played.

Collins’ humor in “Sonnet” is very educated and dry, but the way he writes about Laura and Petrarch, any couple can relate to them, even if they have no previous knowledge of the history of the two. Collins’ make this historical couple seem modern through Laura’s condescending attitude, a man’s natural instinct to try to impress a woman, and dry comedy. He writes it out almost like a sitcom, a man showing off his brawn and a woman barely paying attention to him, telling him to quit acting like a fool and just to come



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