So, did you look at this post because Billy Collins was in the title?
Good. Whatever it takes.
He’s in the title for a good reason. Last Sunday, I went to hear former (2001-2003) U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins read his work and answer questions at Garrison Keillor’s bookstore, Common Good Books, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Occasionally referred to as America’s favorite poet, Billy Collins is charming, funny, and easy to listen to.
Bonus, my husband, a scientist who usually doesn’t read poetry unless I shove my own under his nose and say, “What do you think?”, went with me. And he liked it. He laughed. He stayed awake.
When we got home, he took my copy of The Trouble with Poetry off the coffee table and disappeared into another room with it.
Well. What is it about Billy Collins that compels people to listen to him? Read his poetry in a culture where most of the people who read poetry are those who also write it?
For one thing, his humor is disarming. This is not your stuffy college professor who peers over his glasses at a question about why his poetry doesn’t rhyme. He uses fun titles, as in his haiku collection, She was Just Seventeen. He starts with the ordinary and moves to the extraordinary by paying attention to all those little things around us. He asks, what if?
And he laughs at himself. This is my favorite thing about him. And it’s the one I’m going to try for myself a little more often.
What does that mean for today’s writing prompts?
It means Billy Collins first lines. See what you can launch from a poet who knows how to make poetry that people actually read. And notice how these first lines are all grounded in the everyday.
1. The heads of roses begin to droop.¹
2. I am the dog you put to sleep,²
3. Some like the mountains, some like the seashore.³
4. The birds are in their trees,4
5. There were four of us in the car5
See what you can do with prompts that remind you that what is right in front of you is what might push you to that next epiphany.
¹”In the Evening” From The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems by Billy Collins. New York: Random House, 2005, p. 33.
²”The Revenant” Ibid., p. 65.
³”Breathless” Ibid., p. 31.
4“Monday” Ibid., p. 7.
5“The Drive” Ibid., p. 56.