#SOLC:Poetry Friday – Happy Birthday, Billy Collins!

This post will serve many writing purposes today:

The Slice of Life March Writing Challenge @ Two Writing Teachers – 31 days of  a writing community.

Heidi Mordost has extended this invitation: This week for Poetry Friday, all who care to will post a favorite Billy Collins poem (or Billy-inspired original) in honor of the great man, who turns 75 on March 22.

I love the poetry of Billy Collins.  I love the way he notices the poetic in the every day, and writes about it with such beautifully spare and concentrated attention.  I love his wry sense of humor and the breezy way in which threads the serious and the sensual.  He writes about cats and dogs, the heartbreak of 9/11, being an only child of aging parents, the surprise of Sandhill cranes in Nebraska, and all the other things poets touch upon: love, the death of love, and death itself.  Collins’ poetry encompasses so much.

As a teacher who loves poetry and wants to grow that love in my students, I most appreciate the advice Billy Collins shares about the teaching of poetry – explicit and implicit.  My favorite is this one, not because this is what I find students doing, but because it is what teachers do to students when we have them read and “analyze” poetry:

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.

—Billy Collins

I read this poem often, because I want to remember why we have Poetry Thursdays in my classroom: to “walk inside the poem’s room/and feel the walls for a light switch”.  I want my students to savor the poet’s language and to allow their imaginations to wander through the poem and then through their own memories and thoughts.  I want them to hold on to a poem or two long beyond their days in our classroom, because those poems touched them in some essential way, and they didn’t want to let go.   I guess I live for this moment Billy Collins himself shared:

Happy Birthday, Billy Collins – thank you for your gifts of poetry, and your wise teaching advice.



28 thoughts on “#SOLC:Poetry Friday – Happy Birthday, Billy Collins!

  1. This poem is the one that popped into my mind first when I read Heidi’s invitation. Love this sentence of why you have Poetry Thursday: ” I want my students to savor the poet’s language and to allow their imaginations to wander through the poem and then through their own memories and thoughts.” The best reason ever!

  2. Thank you for sharing this poem with me.
    Your students are so lucky to have you help them “walk inside the poem’s room”.

    As a student, I remember having to tie poems to chairs and never finding the right confession.

    I hope you don’t mind but I would like to use this poem to reflect on my experience with poetry growing up for a slice this month!

  3. I love this one, too, Tara. These are my favorite lines:
    I ask them to take a poem
    and hold it up to the light
    like a color slide…
    Thank you for sharing it, and the video, too. What a moment!

  4. Your love for poetry shines through. I often feel that poetry gets overlooked in the classroom. The poetry of Billy Collins is perfect to share with students. Thanks for sharing with us today! ~Amy

  5. I LOVE THIS!! Thanks for the reminder to revisit Billy Collins’ poetry. I think the one you shared should precede any poetry unit of study! He really does have a way of capturing the essence of something with the most honest and obvious of words. You continue to inspire me, Tara!

  6. The video you shared is that very desire of every teacher, “that something had been learned.” We work for that every day. The getting inside of a poem or getting inside of our students’ heads is a worthy goal. Let’s keep at it!

  7. It’s a poem that can mean much to teachers if only they discover it. I know that you love poetry with your students, the gift that carries on. And I love that video of Billy & the memory of his student encounter. Those little blessings make our lives good! Thanks, Tara.

  8. It’s his humor I first notice. How I am laughing and enjoying the poem and all of a sudden I end up in a place I did not know could be possible. It’s the turn in the poem that gets to me.

  9. I’ve really enjoyed reading everyones’ Billy Collins selections today, and especially finding out why these particular poems were selected. I also appreciate you posting that video at the end, Tara. It’s nice to hear how poetry makes a difference in people’s lives.

  10. One of my favorites — analyzing a poem to death is precisely why so many end up hating poetry. Wonderful video, and I enjoyed reading why Billy’s poetry appeals to you. 🙂

  11. Billy Collins is also one of my favorite poets. I’m reading Rain in Portugal right now–slowly, VERY slowly! (Like 1-2 poems a day.) I’ve shared “Intro to Poetry” so many times with students–mostly as a promise that this is NOT what we will be doing to a poem!

  12. My first year of teaching, in an inner city school in Dallas, my students and I memorized “Barter” by Sara Teasdale. I have often wondered, if lo these 30+ years later, any of those kids still have some of her lines in their active memory…

    Yes, his “Introduction to Poetry” keeps me aiming for the metaphors in the first four stanzas and away from the ones in the last two.

  13. This was great! I still occasionally tie a poem to a chair and beat a confession out of it. They don’t always tell the truth when beaten… I’ve started to learn that – release them and walk away – find one that wants to talk to you.

  14. Collins has captured what we hope for our students-to step into a poem and remain there searching for its power, its twists, and then savor it. While I was a districtwide director, I brought Poetry Out Loud to my district. The power of power was witnessed in action by young student orators who memorized a poem and delivered it. I am a huge proponent of the memorization of a poem.

  15. I love Billy Collins, and like so many of the posters today, have used “Introduction to Poetry” with my students. I always tell them that if they think we are approaching the “beat the poem with a hose” stage, they need to tell me to back away!

    My favorite Billy Collins poem is “Schoolsville.” It is so funny and moving and encapsulates so much about teaching and life all at the same time. It’s not hard to find, but here is a link to a blog with the poem in it to make it extra easy: https://schoolsville.wordpress.com/schoolsville/.

  16. Count on you, Tara, to bring the teacher perspective straight through the door of this House of Billy. Perfect post. My favorite way is “feeling for the light switch” too, and we all find it on a different wall, at a different height!

  17. What a gorgeous thought….coming into the poet’s room and feeling for the light switch. Indeed, that’s what this entire post is…and I can see you walk the walk with your students. Bravo! I continue to learn from your learning. Have a great week.

  18. So enjoyed this, Tara, especially your sum-up of the significance of Collins’ poetry for you. I think your students are incredibly fortunate to have a word-sensitive teacher like you!

  19. Thanks for the BC video… so very inspiring! A wonderful glimpse of fruit that is borne out of teaching/learning that goes on in the classroom.

  20. I wanted to post for the Billy Collins birthday celebration on Friday, but I never got it done. If I had posted, it would have been this poem! Such truth here!

  21. Oh Oh Oh! You shared my absolute favourite Billy Collins poem that I OFTEN read aloud to my teacher trainees. It always elicits a chuckle out of them – because of its stark truth!

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