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Ok, I've owed this for way too long, but luckily I took notes! Below is some random advice and answer to questions from both the Eng Dept Q&A and the Public Reading which was followed by a Q&A.

-"Don't prepare to read by reading." Billy Collins began his career as a professor and the poetry came along much later. He does not have his workshop students read the poetry in advance, because he says this is very artificial. Editors and readers of poetry do not do this. In reality, people glance at a poem and it either seizes them, or it does not.

-"Knowing what's been done." You should read lots and lots of poetry to know what has already been done before. This is something that is not already acknowledged, but you can have a lot of beautiful poetic thoughts, which have simply already been captured. Poems about rainbows and unicorns are the most obvious example of this, but there are many others.

-"Don't go directly to what you are trying to show." Always sneak around the main idea, come back to it at a slant. This idea is often quoted by my prof as "Tell all the truth, but tell it slant," Emily Dickinson. He said that this was the ideal in Western poetry, as in Eastern poetry, you were only allowed to show the thing itself (as in haikus).

-"Ascribe to poetry the ability to do two dissimilar things at the same time", and "Meaning that moves." There was quite a lot behind this, but it has to do with trying to keep the music and the sense of a poem moving in the same direction and doing it well - not easy at all.

-"Give the reader pleasure through form" "Tension between pain of content & pleasure of form" see above.

-"Jealousy - crucial emotion, moved to emulation through envy" Billy Collins basically said that poets are formed from frustration that someone else wrote something beautiful and pushed to write something even better. I think he's right. I've definitely felt feelings of envy when reading other's poems. I would also say that I have a strong calling to know what the inside of a poem feels like. The only way to get that feeling is to be present at its creation. I've managed to be there a few times and it is indeed a wonderful place to be.

-"Allusions should not be deal breakers" This goes back to something that Billy Collins is actually criticized for to some extent. His poems are very accessible, or what he likes to call "hospitable." He does not want his potential readers shut out in the cold because they didn't do the background reading. He said that it was wonderful to add a second layer to a poem, but it should be a bonus. I think a good analogy to this would be the way there was often adult content in the loony brothers cartoons which went way over the heads of the children.

-"Completely unpredictable, yet inevitable" I believe this was referring to the ends of lines and poems. Yep, can't argue with this.

As for actual questions. I managed to ask one with a small followup. Billy Collins described a bit of his writing style. He sits down and writes an entire poem. By this, he meant that he works with it for 15 minutes or an hour and a half until it is done. If it doesn't work out, he moves on to another and another poem because sometimes this is what it takes. I asked what he does with the "dreck." His answer was that he tossed it and he begged us all to do the same. He said that he had never been able to revive or transform a poem which had not worked and that attempts to cobble together scraps were always obvious and pitiful.

I also asked about finding that time to write and he said "Wake up early". He was quite firm about this, especially for those with families and jobs that did not allow for a few odd minutes here and there to write. It is advice that I have heard many times before, but if I woke up a few hours early at this point, I wouldn't be going to bed at all.

I also have a list of poems which he read to us at the Q&A, not his own, which illustrated various points. I'm going to take the time to hyperlink these, so I'll post that later.


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March 2011

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