Former U.S. Poet Laureate Gives Reading – KH -mts -cd

Katy Hillbo

From the moment that Billy Collins walked on stage, his affect was as easy and comfortable as the faded blue jeans that he was wearing.
“My bag is lost somewhere in Minneapolis,” he apologized, with a self-deprecating laugh.
As part of the Fox Cities Book Festival that took place April 16-20, Collins gave a poetry reading in the Lawrence chapel. The event took place at 7 p.m. April 16.
Collins touts some impressive credentials despite his self-effacing persona. He was appointed by Congress to be the U.S. Poet Laureate in 2001 and served two terms in that office.
He has received fellowships from prestigious organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and was awarded the Poetry Foundation’s Mark Twain Award for humorous poetry.
He has published several collections of poetry, including “Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems,” “The Art of Drowning” and “Picnic, Lightning.”
His poetry addresses everyday objects and events but has an element of wisdom that challenges people to think about the larger questions that are hidden in his deceptively simple language. His poems are simultaneously accessible and thought provoking.
At the poetry reading, he shared poems that covered many different topics, including poetry, dogs and everyday objects that people encounter in their daily routines.
His wit is sharp, but affectionate in poems such as “Ballistics” and “Tension,” in which he mocks the process of writing poetry, the differences between poets, and literary clich****e acute****s.
His sense of humor shines in poems such as “The Revenant,” — a poem about a dog who has been put to sleep and speaks post mortem to his or her owner, telling them, “I never liked you.”
Other poems meditate on the many questions in life, like why housing developments are named for the wildlife that is wiped out to make way for their construction, what do hippos have to go on holiday from, and what is it about those little bath floaties?
He also shared a collection of haikus that give a slightly sarcastic take on this poetic form. His poem, “Haiku Truck” plays upon the 17-syllables necessary in a haiku and the “17” wheels on a truck.
He also gives a nod to Robert Frost in “New England Haiku” — a poem that copies one of Frost’s famous poems, but cuts off in a hysterically unsettling spot.
Like Collins’ casual outfit, his poetry is relaxed and comfortable. The reading was entertaining and funny, and felt as natural as slipping on your favorite pair of jeans.