kitchen table

billy boy, billy boy
November 21, 2006, 4:38 pm
Filed under: Buffalo, Literature

Originally uploaded by I Sing

Meant to write about this over the weekend. Boyfriend and I went to see poet Billy Collins read on Friday night at UB. It didn’t take much convincing but we both acknowledged that Mike was hesitant to jump for joy. He wanted to go because I was excited but otherwise, I believe he felt indifferent at best.

He majored in business and finance. I majored in English.

And it’s not that a business major–and now, a law student–wouldn’t find joy in literature, but I know from past conversations that poetry has intimidated Mike. He feels about as connected to it as he does Saturn: it’s out there, it’s untouchable, it doesn’t really matter. What’s more, can anybody really blame him? With the exception of four or five poets, I feel fairly distant from the craft and art of poetry myself. In fact, I often feel like a fraud for not “getting” the Great Poems of All Time. Or for just not being interested.

They’re out there, they’re untouchable, they don’t really matter.

But then we saw Billy Collins on Friday night and we learned, for what felt to me like the first time for both of us, that it is touchable and it does matter. It’s also fuckin’ funny.

Before Collins went on stage, award-winning poet Carl Dennis gave the introduction and I grabbed Mike’s arm with one hand and gripped my seat with the other, fearing we’d both jump ship. Dennis’ speech was well-intentioned–probably even brilliant–but also excruiating and the epitome of a stereotypical poetry reading: white, male scholar droning into his sweater vest about the truths and mysteries of humanity. Blah.

Billy saved the day though and from the moment he stepped up to the podium, the mood in the auditorium was light and open. The very first poem he read, the name I cannot remember, made Mike laugh. And so did the second, the third. The fourth. He read from past works as well as new poems. I turned to Mike many times throughout the night, so delighted to see him smile–he was enjoying a poetry reading! When I wasn’t looking towards the stage or to my side, I was scrawling ideas for poems in my notebook. The kind of inspiration that comes from hearing other people read, by being reminded of how the craft works–from the pinprick of an idea to the excessive sweating of its birth to the polished neatness of its completion, the clean up, the end.

As we were driving home Mike asked me if I had any of his books so we could read them that night, in bed. When I finally got my copy of Sailling Alone Around the Room into his hands he read it like he was hungry. I told him about Billy Collins’ project, Poetry 180, and his other, numerous attempts at making poetry accessible. We both agreed that Mr. Collins was successful within our small world and reread our favorites of the evening, “Forgetfulness,” “Snow Day,” and, of course, “The Trouble with Poetry.”

P.S. Billy Collins is totally Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka.


1 Comment so far
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Ha! It could have been my partner and I in your story (I’ve got the English degree, she’s a Franchise Manager).

You’re lovely to read.

Comment by Little Red

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