Billy Collins at The Parade Tower, Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny,
Saturday night was special for me as I went to a poetry reading by arguably America’s best known and most well-loved contemporary poet at the Kilkenny Arts Festival. I have been reading his work for the last three years now since he was catapulted into my consciousness via the poetry thread that I set up on Linkedin back in September 2011.
I was a tad apprehensive about even attending the event because I felt that past readings in Kilkenny by Irish greats like Seamus Heaney, Michael Longely, Paul Muldoon and Paul Durcan were setting the bar very high and I felt I was setting myself and Billy Collins up for a messy anti-climax. But the dithers were dissolved by hearing Seamus Heaney’s quiet urgings to just go and enjoy what was to be enjoyed and learn what was to be learned.
Well, Billy Collins didn’t even look like I imagined he would from the photos I’d seen. He kinda stood out as he was wearing red trousers that were very definitely 0f the arty kind.
I’d been expecting a Woody Allen type accent but it was much less American and can only be described as velvety.
Billy Collins’ poetry is ‘simple’ on the face of it and is about the most mundane of things. It reminded me of occasions when I’ve seen world class sportspeople, like Seve Ballesteros, Bjorn Borg, Sonia O’Sullivan – it all seemed so easy, effortless and natural but you know that there has to have been a lifetime’s dedication, training and determination involved as well.
Billy Collins can have you guffawing, blubbering, doing mental somersaults all in the space of a few lines. How he turns the world inside out, upside down, takes it on full force or just caresses it gently to peer inside is beyond me.
The reading and subsequent Q&A were tantalisingly short but it’s only now that I’m beginning to process words that Billy Collins scattered around the Parade Tower of Kilkenny Castle. I guess they will surface in all sorts of different contexts over the coming months, years.
For now, I can’t stop thinking of how he talked about how writing a poem is something he does as a single experience. As he said, when he gets an idea, It’s game on, and there isn’t a question of writing a stanza and then heading off to a movie. No, the draft is written in a notebook, and subsequent revisions are about improving, improving, improving ….. be it rhythm, assonance or whatever. When he finally puts the poem on computer, its shape is crucially important because, for him, a poem is like a piece of sculpture.
Oh, and I loved how he talked about poem titles ~ some, he sees as just icing but others are fundamental to the whole poem.
Lots and lots to ponder ~ and you’re right Billy Collins, women want more than similes!
And you’re also right to wonder which American poets are ‘big’ over here in Ireland. For me, it’s Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Galway Kinnell and YOU.
I’m interested to hear what others think on the matter!