Thursday, May 05, 2011

Billy Collins at McDaniel College (Westminster, MD) 05/04/2011

  • Prelude by Eric Burd, int'l jazz ambassador, really nice
  • 25th annual Christopher Bothe Lecture
  • Chris was an English major in the 70s
  • Host of reading, Kathy Mangan, thought the president of McDaniel delusional when he suggested Collins for the series, but he said Collins owed him a favor
  • Introduction by Roger Casey, references Marianne Moore's poem, "Poetry"
  • Acknowledging the (modestly large audience), Collins tells anecdote about being at a Texas college last month when the host said he was amazed at the great turnout, "and he was the chair of the English department!" Collins though is not amazed when people show up for poetry readings. He's amazed that 25M people watch American Idol
  • How do you know when a poem is done? "I'm the first reader of the poem, I read it like a reader would"
  • Someone said a writer's favorite word is "forthcoming" -- before the book release is "the calm before the calm"
  • Makes fun of Fulbright and mainstream poetry (Fulbright poems need to have a fountain in them)
  • Where the title "Horoscopes for the Dead" came from: reading friend's horoscope a couple months after his death (2nd person address poem with lines like "you're not actually going to increase your fortune today")
  • "pierced the enormous circle of the zodiac" (applause)
  • References Howard Nemerov w/r/t a poem about being 6 months behind a natural phenomenon (like fall leaves) -- Nemerov came up with the word "azaleate," which means to commiserate with someone who missed the phenomenon
  • Then reads his version of Li Po's "Drinking Alone" (kinda, actually poem is about prepositional ambiguity of "after")
  • Discouraging teachers who told him to stop writing did a lot for him because he has a stronger drive for revenge than approval
  • "Put a dog in your poem, it will get you past your self absorption for a couple of lines"
  • "Monday" is a nice poem
  • Valery said a poem is never completed, only abandoned
  • "I spend a lot of time finishing my poems"
  • Poem indicative of things I don't like about Collins: "The Lanyard"
  •  "Many of these poems have a wandering capacity. I don't really know where I'm going when I start out."
  • His ability is to write about poetry while referencing the quadratic equation or a famous battle, so he's making poetry about poetry about something else
  • False immodesty disguises actual arrogance
  • Doesn't cry when writing his poems. "I get a little moist when I read them" 
  • Writes funny poems because you can't fake funny. You can fake serious, but if you fail at funny people will say well that's not funny.
  • "People who don't read poetry don't read poetry because they don't read poetry. ... I'm a non hockey watcher." It's not like if hockey stopped being violent, he would start watching it. He just doesn't like to watch it.
  • "What's your favorite thing about being a Guggenheim?" "27 thousand dollars." "Awesome."
  • "I got into poetry because I associated with solitude."
  • "How much of your success is due to your public persona?" "That's such an embarrassing question to answer. I dunno, 40%" Then goes on to attribute success to NPR and being on Fresh Air
  • Here is audio of Collins's "I was like" poem, so sardonic

2 comments:

Matt Jasper said...

90% public persona pushing unambitious, overly agreeable chatter, generally.

Tor Hershman said...

Yep, Matt, when you're there...just smile and wave.

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