Posts Tagged ‘poet laureate’

Billy Collins discusses the value of getting to the end of a poem and what can happen afterwards

April 2, 2015

As we’ve seen in a recent post about the writing and teaching of poetry, Billy Collins wants the poem he’s writing to complete itself, to come to an end. When he writes a poem, he says meaning is the furthest thing on his mind. He’s just trying to get to the next line, to arrive at the ending. “It’s not a search for insight, particularly. It’s a search to be over with.”

In this interview with Ginger Murchison at the 9th Annual Palm Beach Poetry Festival, Billy Collins reveals more about the ending of a poem, how what happens is even more important than the last line of the poem.

During the interview, Ginger Murchison mentions something Billy Collins had alluded to about the end of a poem, and asks him:

What happens at the end of the poem? I want to know about that white space after the last period, for the poet and the reader. You said your poem goes towards somewhere. How do you see that as being more important than even the last line of the poem, that space at the end?

He answers her by describing the significance of the white space:

Well, the white space at the end is just like the white space around the rest of the poem. It stands for silence. And maybe the white space after the end of the poem is a little more silent than the other silences. I think of a poem as an interruption of silence.

He also talks about how satisfying it can be to find the ending to a poem. The implication being, the silence that follows the ending as something new that is created within the writer and the reader.

Once you find it, it’s incredibly satisfying. You found something that didn’t exist before. That the poem brings, calls into existence, through a series of steps, it gains some kind of ground, and out of that ground, there occurs something that had never existed before. It comes as a sort of gain, surprise.

I certainly can relate to that, and described in the previous post how certain poems completed themselves in ways I hadn’t imagined. When that happens, and when a poem enlivens a silence, within and between both the poet and the reader, or listener, it creates a deep feeling of fulfillment.

After hearing a discussion with Bill Moyers and 3 well-known poets on the Diane Rehm show discussing the creation of a poem and the effect it had on an audience when recited, I was inspired to write a poem about this mysterious creative process as something elemental, transcendental.

Poetry—The Art of The Voice, describes the source, course, and goal of poetry springing from and returning to silence, through a poet’s inner voice or consciousness, to a listener’s heart and mind. It also relates to the notion of a writer finding and expressing his or her own voice as a poet.

Another poem I wrote shows how Silence ultimately speaks for itself. See Telling the Story of Silence by Ken Chawkin.

Creation comes about through sounds and silences, expressions and gaps, within which the dynamics of transformation occur. See Coalescing Poetry: Creating a Uni-verse.

For a more detailed explanation of these dynamics in language and creation, see Singing Image of Fire, a poem by Kukai, with thoughts on language, translation, and creation, and Yunus Emre says Wisdom comes from Knowing Oneself — a Singularity that contains the Whole.

George Plimpton interviewed Billy Collins for Paris Review

As referenced by Ginger Murchison, George Plimpton had interviewed Billy Collins for The Paris Review in 2001 after news of his appointment as the new poet laureate by the Library of Congress. He would go on to serve two terms, 2001-2003. Although published 14 years ago, this interview is definitely worth reading:  Billy Collins, The Art of Poetry No. 83.

The interview opens with Plimpton asking Collins how he starts to write a poem. He says he doesn’t write that regularly, much of his time is waiting and watching; he’s vigilant. But when he’s engaged he usually writes a poem quickly, in one sitting.

I think what gets a poem going is an initiating line. Sometimes a first line will occur, and it goes nowhere; but other times—and this, I think, is a sense you develop—I can tell that the line wants to continue. If it does, I can feel a sense of momentum—the poem finds a reason for continuing. The first line is the DNA of the poem; the rest of the poem is constructed out of that first line. The first few lines keep giving birth to more and more lines.

That makes perfect sense. He doesn’t know where he’s going and hopes the poem is one step ahead of him, holding his interest, leading him down the trail to that elusive mysterious ending. I love the different metaphors he uses to describe the pen as a tool to help him discover that something he’s not yet aware of.

Like most poets, I don’t know where I’m going. The pen is an instrument of discovery rather than just a recording implement. If you write a letter of resignation or something with an agenda, you’re simply using a pen to record what you have thought out. In a poem, the pen is more like a flashlight, a Geiger counter, or one of those metal detectors that people walk around beaches with. You’re trying to discover something that you don’t know exists, maybe something of value.

He explains how he likes to invite the reader into a poem with something ordinary, then take him or her, and himself to a place he hasn’t been to yet.

I want to start in a very familiar place and end up in a strange place. The familiar place is often a comic place, and the strange place is indescribable except by reading the poem again.

There’s a lot more to the interview, but he concludes humbly by saying that he’s just trying to be a good writer.

No matter what I’m thinking about when I’m writing a poem, no matter what is captivating my attention, all I’m really trying to do is write good lines and good stanzas.

There’s a reason he’s called America’s most popular poet. He has made poetry accessible to millions of Americans. He continues to write, publish, sell books, teach, and is in constant demand to give poetry readings.

It is a delight to read his poetry. His subtle sense of humor puts a smile on my face. It’s also enjoyable to hear him recite his poems. Seemingly ordinary, they give you a unique perspective on things that were previously unimaginable, and that’s refreshing!

See the previous post: Billy Collins suggests more creative ways to respond to poetry than analyzing it to death. Enjoy the poetic genius and humor of Billy Collins reading his poem “January in Paris” and Billy Collins humorously disagrees with Heraclitus showing how to go into the same water twice.

The Library of Congress Web Guides: Billy Collins: Online Resources.

Billy Collins suggests more creative ways to respond to poetry than analyzing it to death

March 18, 2015

The New York Times calls Billy Collins “the most popular poet in America.” In his poem, Introduction to Poetry, the former two-term U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-2003) suggests more creative ways to respond to poetry than analyzing it to death. This blog post also reveals how Collins writes and teaches poetry. It may surprise you.

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

The Apple that Astonished Paris © 1988, 1996

Listen to Billy Collins read his poem, Introduction to Poetry.

Billy Collins speaks to English teachers in this poem who look at poetry as something to be analyzed and dissected. They teach their students to try to find out what a poem means instead of emotionally responding to it. To make his point, Collins amusingly suggests ways students might approach and experience a poem, instead of “beating it with a hose to find out what it really means.”

Writing and Teaching Poetry

Collins reveals more about his writing process and how he teaches poetry when answering a question from a middle school English teacher. He acknowledges the search for meaning in a poem, but when he writes a poem, meaning is the furthest thing on his mind. He’s just trying to get to the next line, and the next, to finally arrive at the ending.

Basically when you’re teaching poetry, despite that poem (Introduction to Poetry), you’re talking about meaning. We’re basically extracting meaning from the poem. And I realized at some point, that when I wrote a poem, meaning was the last thing on my mind. I never gave it a thought.

Basically, in a poem, I’m just trying to find the next line. I’m trying to find a way for the poem to go. And I’m trying to get to some destination. I’m not thinking about, ‘What’s the poem about, or meaning?’ Or, I’m not thinking of, ‘How will people write study questions about this poem and make any sense out of it?’

So I try to bring some of that into my teaching. I try to substitute for the question, ‘What does a poem mean?’ the question, ‘How does a poem go?’ ‘How does a poem get where its going?’ (It goes from the beginning to the end, maneuvering through shift points along the way, in search of a destination.) A poem is always searching for its own ending. And that’s what poets are thinking about. It’s not a search for insight, particularly. It’s a search to be over with.

PBS NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown interviewed Billy Collins on their Poetry Series about his new collection, Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems. “I knew that poets seemed to be miserable,” said Collins about his younger self, yearning to fit in. While he admits he “faked a miserable character” at the start of his career, he’s since embraced his sense of humor. Poet Billy Collins on humor, authenticity and ‘Aimless Love’

William Stafford on Writing Poetry

William Stafford was Poetry consultant for the Library of Congress in 1970, what a Poet Laureate was called before they created the office. He was named Poet Laureate of Oregon from 1975-93. Stafford’s style of writing and teaching was process-oriented. He gave no praise or blame to his students’ writing. He encouraged English teachers and writing students to be innocent when writing poetry, without any preconceived notions of how it should go, and to be open to discovering the unexpected turns a poem could take on the way to its own completion.

Stafford was very open to spontaneity and receptivity when writing poetry. He said most teachers would spell out what a piece of writing should look like, and expected their students to reproduce the same. This product-oriented approach left no room for the imagination. “They want a wilderness with a map.” But, he asks, “how about errors that give a new start?” Errors, he said, “make a music that nobody hears. Your straying feet find the great dance,” and “stumbling always leads home.” That’s how he wrote poems, early every morning. Enjoy reading these William Stafford poems, A Course in Creative Writing, and You and Art.

My Own Experience as a Writer

I agree with Collins and Stafford that the creative process is a mystery, and coming to the end of a poem is a wonderful relief, especially when I see it finishing itself. It also surprises me with what it’s about, sometimes revealing a deeper meaning at the end than imagined. This meaningful sense of completion is why writing poetry can be so fulfilling.

Two early meta-poems describe this process: Writing—a poem on the writing process, and Sometimes Poetry Happens: a poem about the mystery of creativity. Two early poems I’d written that surprised me with their endings are, As Above So Below, and later, Pine Cone Trees.

My son Nathanael Chawkin wrote a poem called INSPIRATION, an outcome from the first homework assignment in his Grade Six Literature class. He felt strongly that you couldn’t force a student to write a poem; it had to come on its own accord. The poem innocently and profoundly expresses the spontaneity of the poetic process. I also added information with links after his poem about the writing process you may find interesting.

Update

Just added a part two: Billy Collins discusses the value of getting to the end of a poem and what can happen afterwards. Enjoy the poetic genius and humor of Billy Collins reading his poem “January in Paris” and Billy Collins humorously disagrees with Heraclitus showing how to go into the same water twice.

The Library of Congress Web Guides: Billy Collins: Online Resources.

Poetry helps us imagine what it’s like to be human. ~ Mark Strand (1934–2014)

December 5, 2014

Mark Strand, former U.S. poet laureate (1990-1991) and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1999), felt strongly that writing and reading poetry could make us better human beings. “Poetry helps us imagine what it’s like to be human,” he said in an Inscape interview last year.

Percy Bysshe Shelley had famously said, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” When Mark Strand was asked what he thought the function of poetry was in today’s society, he replied: “It’s not going to change the world, but I believe if every head of state and every government official spent an hour a day reading poetry we’d live in a much more humane and decent world. Poetry has a humanizing influence. Poetry delivers an inner life that is articulated to the reader.”

Indeed, especially if they were as transformed by poetry as Mark Strand, who wanted to feel himself “suddenly larger . . . in touch with—or at least close to—what I deem magical, astonishing. I want to experience a kind of wonderment.”

Last week, one of my poet friends, Roger Pelizzari, emailed me about the passing of Mark Strand, and included a favorite poem of his, My Name. Roger included a link to an earlier Paris Review interview: Mark Strand, The Art of Poetry No. 77, with his friend Wallace Shawn, from which I’ve included interesting excerpts.

I was surprised and sorry to hear the news of Strand’s passing and checked the Paris Review for an update. I found Memoriam Mark Strand, 1934–2014, under The Daily by Dan Piepenbring, and sent it to Roger.

Media from around the world published Obituaries reviewing the Canadian-born, American poet’s accomplished literary career. The LA Times described Mark Strand as “a revelatory poet who addressed love and death in his poems, but in radically lyrical, revelatory ways.”

This poem is filled with the wonderment he sought, and seems a fitting memorial, prophetically written in the poet’s own magical words.

My Name

Once when the lawn was a golden green
and the marbled moonlit trees rose like fresh memorials
in the scented air, and the whole countryside pulsed
with the chirr and murmur of insects, I lay in the grass,
feeling the great distances open above me, and wondered
what I would become and where I would find myself,
and though I barely existed, I felt for an instant
that the vast star-clustered sky was mine, and I heard
my name as if for the first time, heard it the way
one hears the wind or the rain, but faint and far off
as though it belonged not to me but to the silence
from which it had come and to which it would go.

(more…)


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