Thursday, November 7, 2013

Poetic Resuscitation

"I have a keener interest in revenge than I have a need for approval." And with this statement, Billy Collins ended his talk Monday night at Town Hall Seattle.

If we all had a keener interest in most anything other than approval, then I'm sure we'd all make a pretty significant mark in this world.

Take a good look at the face below. This, my friends, is the face of someone who has made his mark. This is the face of Billy Collins, poetic resuscitator extraordinaire.

Billy Collins, poetic resuscitator.

What love I had for poetry was painfully extinguished by four years of high school English classes. I was constantly being told by my teachers that my interpretation of this-poem or that-poem was incorrect.

To which I would respond, "It is only correct to say that my intrepretation does not match your intrepretation. Poetry is art. And art resides in the eye of the beholder."

The formal education system does so much to destroy our sense of open-mindedness and creativity. Just let my friggin' eye behold this god damn poem! I digress...

My love for poetry was reignited a few years ago when a friend introduced me to Billy Collins.

Billy Collins. Such a plain name for such an extraordinary poet.

To be honest, my conjumbled mind constantly struggles to remember Billy's name. I recall that his name is an amalgamation of two musician songwriters, but I have to make a conscious effort to ensure that I have the correct combination:

Phil Collins + Billy Joel = Phil Joel
(Nope, that's not right.)

Billy Joel + Phil Collins = Billy Collins
(Yup, that's right!)

The name Billy Collins certainly doesn't have the same poetic ring as Edgar Allan Poe or E.E. Cummings. But don't let that fool you!

Monday night I saw Billy Collins speak at Town Hall Seattle. And he was A. M. A. Z. I. N. G. Hearing Billy read his poems was like music to my ears.

I always found it difficult to read poetry. I paused at the end of every short line of words, and doing so made poetry flow as smoothly as a narcolpetic ballerina. But I've learned, shamefully only recently, that a line break doesn't necessarily imply a verbal break.

Listening to poetry, and more importantly, listening to a poet read his own poetry, is such a different experience. For me, this experience makes the verbal dance so much more appealing.

In a collaboration with Sundance Channel, a handful of Billy's poems were transformed into animated films. These short clips, which are voiced by Billy himself, are perfect for sidestepping the verbal stumble often brought about by reading someone else's poetry. Click on the images below to enjoy my three favorite films.

"Forgetfulness" by Billy Collins.
(Animation by Julian Grey / Head Gear.)

"No Time" by Billy Collins.
(Animation by Jeff Scher.)

"The Country" by Billy Collins.
(Animation by Brady Baltezor / Radium.)

If you'd like to see more of Billy, here's a great video of him presenting at TED:

Thank you, Billy Collins, for breathing life into poetry. Silly me -- I thought poetry had died many moons ago!


  1. Hello, Sarah! Thanks for this introduction to Billy Collins. I loved watching the videos of his poems and I'm going to look for more of his work! I'm another one whose interpretations of poetry never matched the mainstream. I'm always hearing a different song, a different drummer.

  2. Yeah, Mary Jo! That's one of the reasons why I adore you so much -- you hear a different drumbeat!

    Billy's new book, "Aimless Love," is currently #15 on the New York Times Best Sellers List for Hardcover Fiction. That's not bad for a poetry book! My four favorites that he read on Monday were: 1) The Lanyard, 2) The Revenant, 3) Another Reason Why I Don't Keep a Gun in the House, and 4) Nostalgia.



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