Billy Collins, It’s Game On!

Billy Collins at The Parade Tower, Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny,  August 2014
Billy Collins at The Parade Tower, Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny,
August 2014

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! 

Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle




Kilkenny Arts Festival 2012 ~ Anticipation

I’m a great believer in the importance of rewarding oneself when a tough task has been completed. Today has been one of those days when I managed to post off a project I’ve been slaving over for the last while so I indulged myself  with a long sit down with the programme for this year’s Kilkenny Arts Festival. Sheer bliss!

The Festival, which is due to run from August 10th-19th, looks like it will be an absolute cracker and, as usual, ‘arts’ is taken in a very broad sense so there is a huge range of different shows, exhibitions, concerts, talks ….. and poetry readings.

To my absolute delight I discovered that  Paul Durcan, who has to be Ireland’s most entertaining poet,  is returning to Kilkenny this year.  I was fortunate enough to hear him read, or watch him perform, when he was last at the Festival in 2010. The mere thought of that evening still makes me chuckle.

Paul Durcan

I bought a book of his poems after the reading at the Watergate and here is one that I especially like.

Little Old Lady

Mummy shrank as she grew older.

After Daddy died, she became so small

She began to look like a little girl

And, after a period of grief,

To disport like a little girl – the little girl

In the photograph album of 1927

Making hay in Mayo, raking, tossing it,

In the summer before her twelfth birthday.

At seventy-three she beat her way out of the lethargy

Of  old age and she began to hop about

Not only the apartment but the city streets,

Beginning conversations with strangers at bus stops

And hanging out in the new space-age shopping centres.

From a sports shop catalogue she purchased

A steel-and-rope trapeze, which she installed

In a niche over the kitchen door.

“Its compact,” she confided one lunchtime.

“It folds up and folds down like a dream.”

After I’d washed up and dried the dishes

She demonstrated it and teasingly

Tried to persuade me to buy one for myself.

On the morning of her eightieth birthday,

When I’d brought her a gift of a bucket of begonia,

To my chagrin she showed only

A perfunctory interest in my begonia,

Which I had gone to some trouble to purchase.

Instead she stood on the seat of her trapeze

Mocking me as she swung to and fro,

Her little white tennis skirt fluttering

Above her matchstick knees. She cackled:

“Now what do you think of your little old lady?

Do you think she’s surplus to requirements?

Well, don’t think  I’m fishing for compliments.”

So, if you think you’ve earned a browse through the Kilkenny Arts Festival Programme, here’s the link  Be sure to say ‘hello’ when we meet at Paul Durcan’s reading!

Kilkenny ~ A Social Bridge

Kilkenny is a historic city which has had a major impact on my life and which I write about in Section Eight of  Social Bridges.  It is where my parents first met in 1940, and where I  worked as a sociologist almost 30 years ago. It is also a place which connects my mother, myself and my son through tennis.  Each year, I return to savour the wonders of  the Kilkenny Arts Festival.