January 1, 2010

Hold It Up to the Light

I'll be teaching poetry in a few weeks. I can't wait. One of the books I'm going to try this year is Poetry 180, an anthology that Billy Collins put together when he was poet laureate. His vision was that poems should be read in schools every morning over the loudspeaker. 180 days of school, 180 poems. I once heard him talk about the project and he referred to choosing poems that could be caught on one bounce. Read it aloud, experience it in real time, and take something with you.

The first poem is -- appropriately -- "Introduction to Poetry," by Collins himself. He says that he wants his students to "take a poem / and hold it up to the light / like a color slide." Instead, "all they want to do / is tie the poem to a chair with rope / and torture a confession out of it."

I'm with Collins. There's certainly a purpose for explicating a poem, unfolding it to see precisely how it is made. But there's a pleasure in words and images that is sometimes best accessed if you can just "waterski / across the surface of a poem / waving at the author's name on the shore."


  1. I like the waterski approach.

  2. i wonder what would happen if i started reading a poem every morning at breakfast. maybe i ought to get this book?