Thursday, February 22, 2007

Billy Collins reads in Santa Rosa

Poetry aficionados, the Lake County Poet Laureate among them, gave a warm welcome to Billy Collins, two-term poet laureate of the United States of America.

Collins was a featured guest in the Copperfield's Books Readers Series, Tuesday, Feb. 13, at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts. His opening poem, "Monday," portrayed the relationship of the working poet with the tool of his trade. "By now, it should go without saying/ that what the oven is to the baker/ and the berry-stained blouse to the dry cleaner,/ so the window is to the poet." His reading included selections from several of his collected works including "Picnic, Lighting" and "The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems."

Collins's work is known for its wry humor and what I found particularly inventive was his ability to apply his chosen subjects in an unexpected direction. In "Litany," for example, Billy Collins took the first lines of a poem by Jacques Crickillon and essentially "re-wrote the poem for him."

"You are the bread and the knife,/ The crystal goblet and the wine./ ... / However, you are not the wind in the orchard,/ the plums on the counter,/ or the house of cards./ And you are certainly not the pine-scented air./ There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air."

Collins was appointed in 2001 and again in 2002 to the position of U.S. Poet Laureate. An ongoing effort by Collins, to encourage poetry for high school students, is the Poetry 180 project, Operated through the U.S. Library of Congress, Poetry 180 is designed to make it easy for students to hear and read poems that were selected by Collins -- with high school students in mind -- on each one of the school year's 180 days.

A question and answer session after Collins's reading revealed some of his thoughts on the creation of poetry. "There are two sides to poetry," he said in response to a question about public readings. "I couldn't be more alone when I write poetry. I picture one person alone in a room. The public presentation, or the commodification of poetry, is different from the composition."

Collins's advice to aspiring poets? Find a poet whose work "makes you jealous" because that will stimulate your creativity.

Among those attending Collins's reading was Lake County Poet Laureate Sandra Wade. Our discussion after the performance concerned a decision earlier that day by the Lake County Board of Supervisors to support non-profit community radio station KPFZ. Public radio has traditionally been a supportive place for the poetic arts as witness the role of NPR in publicizing Collins's poetry.

Pre-event publicity for Collins's reading credited his appearances on NPR with having tremendously enlarged his audience.

The next presenter to be featured in the Copperfield's Books Readers Series will be Terry Gross, host of NPR's "Fresh Air." Gross will play recorded excerpts from interviews that went especially well and especially badly to illustrate her discussion and will also talk about her life and career. Gross appears Friday, April 13, at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts. Call 546-3600 for tickets or visit

Published circa Feb. 22, 2007 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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