Poetry Regarding Poetry

Sydney Sullivan, age 17

It is no mystery why Billy Collins has earned the title of Poet Laureate not once but twice. His diction is spectacular in its simplicity, as is the content he delves into. He provokes reflection in his contemplation of everyday objects: a window, a statue, a notebook. Never a pedant, he speaks to whomever dives into his work. The beauty in his poetry lies in its duality. Sparse yet elegant, succinct yet rich, and humorous yet sobering. In his collection, “The Trouble with Poetry and other Poems,” he tackles his identity as a writer of poetry while inspiring new poets with every stanza.

Collins discusses sorrow, nostalgia and gloom in an often lighthearted and ironic tone. In “The Revenant,” he writes from the perspective of a euthanized dog, redefining a heartbreaking concept as a comedic one. “When I licked your face, I thought of biting your nose,” he teases. And with that phrase the theme of grief is replaced by playful taunting. His ability to find humor in tragedy demonstrates the diverse lenses from which he observes the world.

A talented poet abides by no rules, and Collins flaunts this in “The Student.” He commences this piece with a laundry list of rules regarding poetic structure, and closes with his prompt defiance of the final rule: “always keep your poem in one season.” His grand finale frolics from summer to fall to winter, exemplifying his belief that guidelines are not applicable to poetry. In a whimsical rather than scornful tone, he denounces the rule makers attempting to constrain his mind.

The reader only learns the “trouble with poetry” in Collins’s final poem, where it is finally revealed that there is no true trouble with poetry at all. “The trouble with poetry is,” Collins writes, “that it encourages the writing of more poetry, more guppies crowding the fish tank, more baby rabbits hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.” In these fleeting phrases, Collins answers the question posed by every reader as they gaze down upon his latest collection: How can a poet find flaws in his passion? It turns out that the “trouble” is not a trouble at all, but rather a complexity that defines poetry as art instead of mere words. Poetry is a gateway to infinite observations and realizations. This language will discontinue only when “we have compared everything in the world to everything else in the world” which clearly will never occur. With these words Billy Collins challenges every reader, regardless of age, class or education, to commence their comparisons of worldly objects.