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.