Billy Collins: action poet
April 13, 2007 5:47 AM   Subscribe

Billy Collins: action poet. Animated quicktime video poem readings.
posted by srboisvert (19 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for opening the door to the semi-annual Billy Collins HateFest. Personally, I'm no expert on poetry (or Collins) but I like the stuff of his that I've heard read. Not sure that his stuff will be taught in classrooms in the next century, but I like music that probably won't be going into the Canon anytime soon, either.
posted by spock at 6:06 AM on April 13, 2007

Some of these (if they are the same thing--I can't view QT) are on YouTube.
posted by DU at 6:15 AM on April 13, 2007

Thanks for opening the door to the semi-annual Billy Collins HateFest.

Heh. Some people don't grasp that the ergon of a Laureate is to advocate and evangelize poetry, not to be the best writer working in the medium. These two goals are not necessarily sympathetic.

A more interesting criticism to me, not specifically of Collins but of the laureate chair itself, is asking just what sort of attitudes it fosters towards poetry. Does it just encourage more Livejournal postings and franchised writing McWorkshops? Or does it take too patrician an approach and alienate students of poetry?

Of these, I like the best the ones where the visuals are just a little decoupled from the text, as in "Hunger." A couple of these seem to be literal illustrations of the voiceover - why bother?
posted by kid ichorous at 7:19 AM on April 13, 2007

I liked the visuals in Budapest a lot. Thanks for the post.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:24 AM on April 13, 2007

I like Billy Collins! And I like these videos! Thanks, srboisvert
posted by Cookiebastard at 7:53 AM on April 13, 2007

Big ups from yours truly. Good stuff, and I like the idea of "poetry videos" - maybe one day there will be a PTV (Poetry Television) channel that starts out showing awesome videos of poetry of various kinds, then starts to specialize in nothing but, say, the beat poets, then starts adding "reality" shows like, say, "On The Road Rules", then finally gives up on poetry altogether in favor of quiz shows, lifestyle shows, and so on ...
posted by kcds at 8:03 AM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Interesting. I've a friend who's had any number of her poems converted to short films. It seems to be quite a recent thing. I never heard of it happening until about a year ago.

Has this always happened or is it a new thing?
posted by seanyboy at 8:50 AM on April 13, 2007

For some reason, i'm not getting any sound in Firefox?
posted by storybored at 8:52 AM on April 13, 2007

I'm commenting here not to start a fight, but merely to provide information. A lot of people get confused about why there's so much derision for Collins. I was confused about it for a long time too. I even have a few of his books, and think they're pretty good.

The problem is not so much in the poetry itself, but in the way in which he frames poetry. In the many journals and anthologies that he's edited and guest edited, as well as in his endless speaking and advocating for poetry, he presents a narrative of American poetry with himself at the center of it.

Every "school" is ghettoized, even as Collins pretends to pay tribute. "Oh yes, yes, there are the Beats, and Slam, and Hip Hop, and the New York School, and LangPo and what-have-you, and each of those have their place, but then there's POETRY." By putting every poet who is not sufficiently like him in a controlled area, he creates an imagined mainstream, in which lots of people write like him. This mainstream might sell books, and it might get Ted Kooser named poet laureate, but it really doesn't exist, for all practical purposes.

Ron Silliman coined a term "school of quietude" for Collins and his ilk. I don't really like the term because Silliman and others just use it as name-calling, but it gets at the problem. In pretending not to be a school, these guys imagine themselves as the default poetry.

The videos are pretty cool.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:04 AM on April 13, 2007

Good effort.

Budapest is a little like Thought Fox, one of Ted Hughes' best-known works.
posted by humblepigeon at 9:50 AM on April 13, 2007

It seems to be quite a recent thing. I never heard of it happening until about a year ago.

No. A number of the beat poets had short films made about their stuff in the 60s. A few Leonard Cohen poems were animated in the 70s if I remember correctly. I myself made a short film out of Bukowski's poem Style in 1993 or so.
posted by dobbs at 10:04 AM on April 13, 2007

roll truck roll: are you saying that Kooser was not a worthy choice as Poet Laureate?

I think he represents well, in many ways. Being a fellow Nebraskan, I may share some of his sensibilities and familiarity with his imagery — but more than that I think he kicks open the door to poetry beyond academia. Sure, he's on the faculty at UNL now but he produced most of his poetry by rising early and working daily, before heading off to his "day job" as an insurance company executive. He believes that poetry belongs to each of us, not just the academics and poet reviewers of the world.

As poet laureate he started American Life in Poetry which makes a free column on poetry available to newspapers nationwide, which is just one example of his contribution.

*full disclosure: I administer
posted by spock at 12:22 PM on April 13, 2007

Poetry fans may appreciate this Monkeyfilter thread which has been going 2-1/2 years now.
posted by spock at 12:27 PM on April 13, 2007

Spock, I'm from South Dakota and spent about a year heavily entrenched in the Omaha poetry community. There's a very good chance you and I have met.

I hesitated even to make that comment at all, and I probably shouldn't have mentioned Kooser. As I said, I was trying to provide information more than give my own opinion. I wanted to provide some context for the "semi-annual Billy Collins HateFest" you warned us about.

No, I like Kooser, and I like Collins too. I can't honestly say either of them would be my first choice for Laureate, but that's okay. We all have our first choices.

I always cringe at statements like "poetry belongs to each of us" because, well, difficult poetry belongs to each of us too. You don't need a degree to read and appreciate George Oppen or Ted Berrigan; you just need to want to read and appreciate George Oppen or Ted Berrigan.

When people start talking about writing "for the people," I tend to cut out of the room. The myth of "the people" singlehandedly caused the dumbing down of slam poetry, and it hasn't done much for the Best American anthologies either.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:46 PM on April 13, 2007

Accessible = "dumbing down"? This verges on an "Emperor's New Clothes" philosophy of poetry. Only the intelligent can appreciate it. On the contrary, I think that "professional poets" along with "professional poetry reviewers" have had more to do with poetry being taken out of the everyman's life. Kooser has made the point, when I have seen him in person, that children love poetry. But then what happens? Somehow, in the education system poems are turned into math problems, to which one is supposed to come up with a correct "solution". The joy goes out of it, in a hurry.

Poetry reviewers can make or break a young poet's career. They don't have much of a job, if everyone already understand (and can judge) a poem for themselves. So setting themselves up as the Emperor's tailors they pick the obscure, inaccessible stuff and tell you how good it is, and why. Poets then strive to write for them. With that Good PoemsKeeping seal-of-approval that style gets taught and emulated by others.

Now I think that a trained eye will always see art in a different way and with perhaps a deeper understanding than the "common person", but attitude that inscrutible = better has done a lot to remove poetry from the everyday lives of people, and I think that is unfortunate.
posted by spock at 1:09 PM on April 13, 2007

Hrm. Okay, I'll write more on this later, when I'm not at work. But for now, consider this: I like the people you're defending. I do. But there is plenty more out there, even for us normal people.
posted by roll truck roll at 4:03 PM on April 13, 2007

Only the intelligent can appreciate it.

I'm really not sure what this means. I suppose I think that everyone who subscribes to poetry journals might be slightly more intelligent than the average person, but that's not specific to poetry, and it's certainly not specific to "difficult" poetry. People who read are, generally speaking, more intelligent than people who don't.

On the contrary, I think that "professional poets" along with "professional poetry reviewers" have had more to do with poetry being taken out of the everyman's life.


Poetry reviewers can make or break a young poet's career. They don't have much of a job, if everyone already understand (and can judge) a poem for themselves.

I don't mean to sound like I'm trying to "call BS" here (I'm not), but could you please give me some examples of these "professional poets" and "professional reviewers"? In many cases I would very likely agree with you, but could you be more specific?

If by "professional poets," we mean poets whose sole source of income is writing poetry, there really aren't any. Or rather, there really aren't any who aren't named Billy Collins. Everyone has a day job. (Yes, teaching is a day job.)

But moreover, where are these reviews ruining young poets' careers? The NYT and WashPo don't do much reviewing first books by young poets. They review Billy Collins. The reviews that get printed in serious journals (often written by other young poets) aren't really the kind of reviews that go around making all-knowing pronouncements. Serious poetry reviews aren't litmus tests, they're about framing and rethinking and contextualizing. They're missives in a conversation, a conversation that also includes poetry, journal editing decisions, blogs, listserv emails, etc.

I have to admit, I get frustrated by the "Emporer's New Clothes" references that always pop up in these discussions. Are you actually saying that the entire poetry world--including poets, teachers, and thousands of poetry fans--with the exception of the handful of poets who make appearances on Garrison Keillor or Def Poetry--are bluffing? That's a little perverse.

Look, I like the commonness of Ted Kooser. And I like the "sitting in my living room thinking about jazz" ethos of Billy Collins. But there's nothing that makes them more "common" or "accessible" than the modern-day Socratic David Antin, or the poet-physicist Shanxing Wang, or the overintellectual video game nerd Ben Lerner, or the word-anarchist Alice Notley.

And yes, difficulty can also be common. It's good to puzzle over a poem, fight with it, struggle against it. These are things normal people like to do.

There's plenty of challenging visual art and music and theatre--all of it consumed by people who have to work 40 hours a week, just like you and I--but for some reason, some would prefer that poetry never go beyond the first-person-narrative-about-lanyards level.

But the thing that it all comes back to is this: who is "the everyman"? What does he look like? What is his income? Education? Race? Sexual orientation? Prescriptions of commonness are always so reductive, and almost always wrong.

You and I are common people, spock. Common people can watch and appreciate both The Fast and the Furious and Cremaster. Common people have George Jones and Gyorgi Ligeti next to each other in iTunes. Common people bring an extra set of clothes to the auto shop so they can change before the opera. Common people believe in God but cringe when other people talk about God. Common people are mean hypocrites a lot of the time, but can also be awesome. Common people are very, very complicated.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:59 PM on April 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I really don't get a reply?
Zing. :(
posted by roll truck roll at 1:46 PM on April 20, 2007

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