January 31, 2013

From The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2010, edited by Lorna Crozier and published by Tightrope Books.

Billy Collins says you can’t have people in your poems.
It can only be you and your reader.
You think of all the people in your poems:

your Aunt Evelyn, your mother, your friends Linda
and Dick and Ross. John Porter.
Your mother, your mother. Billy Collins says your job as poet

is to give your reader pleasure. You thought giving pleasure
was your job in sex.
Your reader’s crotch is the one thing you never

worried about. Billy Collins says sometimes he takes his penis
off when he writes a poem.
You wonder what his penis does when it knows its master

is writing. Goes to bars? Appears for Margaret Atwood
as a remote-signature pen?
Billy Collins says strangers don’t care

about your thoughts and feelings. You want to put up
your hand, tell him
about the woman behind you: you came

an hour early to sit in the front row and discovered
you’d forgotten your reading
glasses; you were so desperate at the prospect of an hour

doing nothing that you turned around and asked a row
of strangers if anyone had extra
reading glasses; the woman behind you lent you her brand

new pair. But he’s back on pleasure. He says how you give
your reader pleasure is form.
Dusty old form! Grade ten sticking-to-your-varnished-

wooden-seat iambic pentameter! You’re still
mulling that when Roger Rosenblatt
asks Billy Collins why he didn’t become a jazz musician.

Billy Collins says he wishes he had become a jazz musician,
he wouldn’t have to be on stage
answering these questions. So much for that

egg-over-easy persona of the poems, eh? Now he’s saying
no decent poet ever knows
the ending of a poem he’s writing. You think sadly

of all those endings you thought of in the shower, even though
you know Billy Collins won’t care
about your feelings and you know you shouldn’t use

an adverb in a poem. Then Roger Rosenblatt asks Billy Collins:
What is the importance of poetry?
Billy Collins sits up straight and says, Poetry is optional.

That’s right, reader. Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate
of the United States of America
is sitting here on stage saying poetry is optional. And you

thought people died for lack of what is found there.
Wait a minute. Something’s happening
on stage. Billy Collins is fed up. Billy Collins is leaving.

Unclipping his wings. They’re black, just so you know,
like his suit. Billy Collins has the wingspan
of a frigate bird. There he goes—rising, rising, riding

the currents of institutionalized sublimity. Beating his way
across the ceiling beneath the track
lighting, brushing the Stars and Stripes aside. He’s off to find

his roving mojo. You sigh and think about going home.
You’ll have to rub out
all those people in your poems. You’ll have to have a cold

shower whenever you feel an ending coming on.
You think sadly—
okay, adverbially—about your Aunt Evelyn.

How much
you loved her. How proudly she wore her moustache
to church.


January 31, 2013

Comments (2)

Comment Feed

Billy Collins

I love this poem.

Elizabet Stevens more than 1 years ago

billy collins says poetry is optional

I loved this! Yes, poetry is optional. Art is optional. Participation is optional. What a freeing thought. And pleasure. Your audience is looking for pleasure, and they don't care about your thoughts and feelings. How true. Caring is optional. Having enjoyed video of Collins reading, and animated shorts set to his poems, I've received a lot of pleasure from this poetry.

kent more than 1 years ago

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