I just realized that today’s the birthday of one of my favorite living poets, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. I’ve often called him the gateway drug for poetry, because his work manages to be just as accessible as it is profound, convincing even the skeptical (like I was) that modern poetry could be amazing. His poems do so well what I think C.S. Lewis’s books do with theology: they take big, beautiful ideas and tether them to earth so the rest of us down here actually stand a chance to grasp them and thereby broaden our minds and hearts. His poems are kind, and, I would argue, even loving to the reader, deftly mixing humor and human nature and transcendent themes in a way that I’ve never encountered before. He’s a master.
If you want a primer, here’s a video of Billy reading some of his great ones.
One of the high points in my career was getting to do a writer’s round with him one night at an event in Nashville, and I was talked into the very risky prospect of not merely reading one of my meager poems in front of him, but one I wrote about him after spotting him at the airport on a layover. After my reading (which embarrassed him somewhat) he very graciously leaned over to me and said, “I like that you wrote about my buttocks.”
I thought I’d share my poem here. It was published in The Molehill, Volume I. Cheers, Billy. I’m glad you do what you do.
BILLY COLLINS AT THE AIRPORT By Andrew Peterson You looked as much like Mr. Collins As you ought to have: bright eyed, With a minuscule smile, as if you knew Something the rest of us could only know If you put it down in a ten-line poem. You were putting on your suit coat After having been undressed And x-rayed by the security offcers, Who I’m sure had no idea what You were really smuggling, Unaware that they were patting down The thighs and buttocks of a poet laureate Searching all the wrong sensitive areas With their bright blue latex gloves. They couldn’t imagine that they were, In that moment, merely metaphors For some wry, lovely, dangerous thought– Something about windows, or fruit, Or maybe something even worse.