Billy Collins: On the Road with the Poet Laureate

billy collins
On the Road features poet Billy Collins.

If you enjoy poetry, raise your hand. Don’t worry, mine isn’t raised either. But a few years ago when I heard Billy Collins on NPR, I made an exception, and so will you. Billy Collins did for poetry what Starbucks did for coffee: he put it on the map. He stripped the genre of pretention, teased the Hell out of it, laced it with humor, and made it cool.

Billy Collins: On the Road with the Poet Laureate (2003) follows the the-62-year-old bard on his literary tour as America’s Poet Laureate, a title bestowed by the U.S. Library of Congress, which Collins held for two years. This one-hour documentary includes comments from distinguished poets and critics and a taste of Collins’s whimsical verses. We also get a feeling for Collins himself, the pensive Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College, City University of New York, the self-described suburban poet of Westchester, whose books of poems, including The Apple that Astonished Paris and Sailing Alone Around the Room, have set records for poetry sales.

Most of all, we get a feeling for Collins’s unencumbered creative process, which makes writing verse seem so simple. Collins claims to write best when he has nothing to say. If this is the case, few writers can communicate nothing with so much clarity and such a funny sense of mischief. And while his poems certainly hold up well in print, his delivery pumps a 3-D experience into those crisp informal verses that read like conversation.

So why did I wait all these years to recommend this DVD? Because I just found it. And here I leave you with a final sample and dare you not to get hooked. B+

the trouble with poetry is
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.
And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world,
and there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks…

—Excerpt from The Trouble With Poetry, by Billy Collins