I'm trying to write poems that involve beginning at a known place, and ending up at a slightly different place. Often people, when they're confronted with a poem, it's like someone who keep saying 'what is the meaning of this? I write with a Uni-Ball Onyx Micropoint on nine-by-seven bound notebooks made by a Canadian company called Blueline. Radio is such a perfect medium for the transmission of poetry, primarily because there just is the voice, there's no visual distraction. The first line is the DNA of the poem; the rest of the poem is constructed out of that first line.
I find that my reading, particularly nonfiction, can inspire a poem as well as anything else.
I first came across 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree' in college, with other anthologized poems by Yeats. I'm a nearly uncontrollable Geoff Dyer fan, who I think is one of the most comically brilliant writers today. I'm easily frightened, and I've also come to realize that old Catholic guilt or remorse is easily stimulated. I'm going through life's cycles at an alarmingly fast pace, but my persona has a Peter Pan quality: he doesn't age. I'm pretty much all for poetry in public places - poetry on buses, poetry on subways, on billboards, on cereal boxes.
It's an important social duty to spread the word of English to people whose livelihoods depend on knowing the language.
Poems are perfect for something to listen to while you're walking around because they don't take very long. The poets who have written the best poems about war seem to be the poets whose countries have experienced an invasion or vicious dictatorships. When I became poet laureate, I was in a slightly uncomfortable position because I think a lot of poetry isn't worth reading.
Very few people have actually read Freud, but everyone seems prepared to talk about him in that Woody Allen way. A lasting marriage, they say, is one where the two reach for different sections of the Sunday paper.
A lot of my poems either have historical sequences or other kinds of chronological grids where I'm locating myself in time.
I did try to write stories in college because I was interested in writing, and I was interested in the sound of language, but I was just no good at narrative and at fiction. I am increasingly attracted to restricting possibility in the poem by inflicting a form upon yourself. When you put a book together and arrange it, there's a lot of anxiety and turmoil about what order the poems should be in. I just reached the point where plot-driven novels don't hold my interest because I don't care about the fate of characters anymore - whether Emily marries Tom or not, that kind of thing. I know my voice has a limited range of motion; I don't write dramatic monologues and pretend to be other people.
I think more influential than Emily Dickinson or Coleridge or Wordsworth on my imagination were Warner Brothers, Merrie Melodies, and Loony Tunes cartoons. I have a stack of those plastic card hotel room keys that I picked up on this latest book tour. I really have a distaste for poets who announce themselves at 50 yards; you know, here he comes, you know, with the beret and the cane and the cape and the whatever - whatever mishegas is part of the outfit there.


I'm a great believer in poetry out of the classroom, in public places, on subways, trains, on cocktail napkins. I'm all for poetry catching up with technology, and just as there are iTunes, I think we should have iPoems. I'm very aware of the presence of a reader, and that probably is a reaction against a lot of poems that I do read which seem oblivious to my presence as a reader. If an artist is driven primarily by social responsibility, I think the art probably suffers because, again, just as leadership has a rather defined end point or purpose, social responsibility would seem to have a very clear moral context. One of the ridiculous aspects of being a poet is the huge gulf between how seriously we take ourselves and how generally we are ignored by everybody else. Now that I'm older, a real source of interest is the ages of the dead, the number; the day is off to an optimistic start when the departed are all older than I. 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 the long revolt against inherited forms that has by now become the narrative of 20th-century poetry in English, no poet was more flamboyant or more recognizable in his iconoclasm than Cummings. My poems tend to have rhetorical structures; what I mean by that is they tend to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
One of the disadvantages of poetry over popular music is that if you write a pop song, it naturally gets into people's heads as they listen in the car. I think if a poet wanted to lead, he or she would want the message to be unequivocally clear and free of ambiguity. The life of Edward Estlin Cummings began with a childhood in Cambridge, Mass., that he described as happy, but he struggled in both his artistic and romantic exploits against the piousness of his father, an esteemed Harvard professor. When I discovered the lyric poem, that advanced not by narrative steps but by blocks and layers of imagery, I said, 'Gee, I probably could do that. Some honor Cummings as the granddaddy of all American innovators in poetry and ascribe to him a diverse progeny that includes virtually any poet who considers the page a field and allows silence to be part of poetry's expressiveness.
The disappointing second novel is measured against the brilliant first novel - often no novel lives up to the first. The whole world of publishing is moving to electronic, but when you put a poem on a screen and you increase the type size, the shape of a poem changes.
To a poet, it's quite ruinous to have a poem distorted, out of shape, or squeezed, shall we say, into this tiny screen. When I was a young man, I understood that poetry was two things - it was difficult to understand, but you could understand that the poet was miserable. William James "Billy" Collins is an American poet, appointed as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. Poetry is very frustrating to students because they don't have a taste for ambiguity, for one thing. Thomas, the 'Times' obit writer who redesigned its traditional form and added a measure of stylistic elegance. He tried his hand at playwriting, satirical essays, and even a dance scenario for Lincoln Kirsten. I'm trying to take a little journey from one place to another, and it's usually from a realistic place, to a place in the imagination. It's a way of enticing a reader into a poem so that less funny things can take place later. 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.
After I do a few drafts, I type up the poem on a Macintosh G3 and then send it out the door.


But the real question is, 'What happens to the reader once he or she gets inside the poem?' That's the real question for me, is getting the reader into the poem and then taking the reader somewhere, because I think of poetry as a kind of form of travel writing.
I mean, I enjoy some difficult poetry, but some of it is impenetrable and I actually wouldn't want to penetrate it if I could, perhaps.
She remained loyal to her persona and to that same little metrical song that stood her in such good stead.
But also for most Americans, contemporary painting or jazz or sculpture play no role either. It's called 'common meter.' It's a line of four beats that's followed by a line of three beats.
I'm not much attracted to anything that involves the willing forfeiture of privacy and the foregrounding of insignificance. And the poem, if it's written with the ear, already has been set to its own verbal music as it was composed. We encourage high schools, because that's really where, for most people, poetry dies off and gets buried under other adolescent pursuits. But as the poem goes on, I want the journey of the poem to lead into some interesting places. But so far, my voice is broad enough to accommodate most of what I want to put into my poetry. And that means being true to the tradition of the art but also being true to your own artistic vision. I mean, people should be able to walk around with their earbuds in and listening to poems on their iPod. There are themes of love lost and love regained, but the main themes of all poems are basically love and death, and that seems to be the message of poetry. 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 don't have to memorize a Paul Simon song; it's just in your head, and you can sing along. And then they go into this tunnel that we call adolescence, and when they come out of it, they hate poetry. So for a while there, I wrote poems that were hard to understand, even by me, but gave off whiffs of misery.
He is a Distinguished Professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York and is the Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Winter Park Institute, Florida. The listener doesn't have time to deploy what I call their 'poetry deflector shields' that were installed in high school - there's little time to resist the poem. I would like him to be slightly disoriented at the end, like I drove him outside of town at night and dropped him off in a cornfield. The title and the first few lines are a kind of welcome mat where I am inviting the reader inside. Collins was recognized as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library and selected as the New York State Poet for 2004 through 2006. I'll go back and tinker with a word or two, change a line for some metrical reason weeks later, but I try to get the whole thing just done.



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