Billy Collins On Poets And Readers


Billy Collins spoke this morning on the
relationship between poet and reader. This relationship is intimate and one
that Collins is acutely aware of when writing. The maximum occupancy for a
lyrical poem, Collins said, is two, the poet and the reader.


He divided contemporary poetry into two camps. The
first is poetry where the poet is aware of the reader’s presence, and in the
second he is not. The first are dogs, the second cats, he illustrated in
metaphor. For Collins poetry is a social encounter. He makes a practice of
including a prefatory poem in each of his books explicitly acknowledging the
connection between poet and reader.


On a note to poetic form as discussed yesterday,
Collins said that form is what makes poetry sociable by including the reader.
Free verse also has formal properties, he said. In his revision process, he
often alternates between writer and reader in order to check his
self-expressive urges with an objective other.


In his writing workshops, he will often tell his
students, “Nobody cares about you.” Self-expression is wildly overrated.
Readers of poetry are interested in the poetry, the poetic form, not the poet.
For this reason, a poet’s awareness of his reader is critical.

Photo by Sharon McGauley.


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