Billy Collins

  • 18 August 2006

This article is from 2006.

‘One of my students, without irony, said that poetry is harder than writing prose. Well, prose is harder for me. I know what I’m doing with poetry, I can get started.’

If anyone can improve the current, penurious position of contemporary poetry in the western consciousness, the former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins can. His writing is predicated on an implacable, Wordsworthian desire to provide the reader with accessible pleasure, and at all times he defers to the reader as someone who must be catered for: ‘I am addicted to the presence of a reader. Plotting out the course of a poem is an expression of courtesy to them, and in this way I practise a kind of ethical-artistic politeness, letting the reader know where this poem is going.’

This sense of professional courtesy extends to his attitude towards literary events and appearances: ‘I take to them pretty well, maybe because I’m an only child and I need a lot of attention. Because I’m reader-conscious, doing readings is a way of physically completing the act of writing. It becomes an incarnation of this invisible reader. Aside from this, I generally like getting out. I’ve been to Edinburgh but never as a poet.’ (John Regan)

28 Aug, 8.30pm, £8 (£6).

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