Postcard From Billy Collins, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
In February, we read the work of Billy Collins in our monthly Poetry & Meditation Group. Though he was the United States Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003, I had not been introduced to his body of work (with the exception of his popular poem about mothers and sons, “The Lanyard“). But after reading “Japan” and “Fishing on the Susquehanna in July” out loud, and listening in silence while others read his poetry, I became a big fan.
As is our custom, at the end of the night, the founder of our Poetry Group passed around a card for us to sign, a token of our gratitude to the poet. Each month, she addresses, seals and stamps the envelope, then mails our card off to the poet the next day. We don’t have expectations; it’s enough to share their poetry.
But once in a while, the Universe responds in kind. When we arrived at the March Poetry & Meditation Group, here is what we found:
To the Teri Blair Meditation & Poetry Group!
This poet of the Sung dynasty is so miserable.
The wind sighs around the trees,
a single swan passes overhead,
and he is alone on the water in his skiff.
If only he appreciated life
in eleventh-century China as much as I do —
no loud cartoons on television,
no music from the ice cream truck,
just the calls of elated birds
and the steady flow of the water clock.
Poem reprinted with permission of the author,
Copyright 2006 Billy Collins.
Billy Collins describes poetry as “the only surviving history we have of human emotion.” We were thrilled and honored to hear from him. And it seems like a great way to kick off National Poetry Month on red Ravine. I am continually surprised by the generosity of famous writers to give back to those of us who find ourselves at humble beginnings. Maybe it’s a lesson to pay attention to — that no matter our status, we are all at the beginning. Every poem, short story, essay, and blog post takes us back to Beginner’s Mind.
We hope you will join in the celebration during National Poetry Month. It was established in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets and is a month-long national celebration of poetry.
According to poets.org, the concept is to widen the attention of individuals and the media — to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern. The hope is to increase the visibility and availability of poetry in popular culture while acknowledging and celebrating poetry’s ability to sustain itself in the many places where it is practiced and appreciated.
The goals of National Poetry Month are to:
- Highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets
- Introduce more Americans to the pleasures of reading poetry
- Bring poets and poetry to the public in immediate and innovative ways
- Make poetry a more important part of the school curriculum
- Increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media
- Encourage increased publication, distribution, and sales of poetry books
- Increase public and private philanthropic support for poets and poetry
On April 16th our Poetry & Meditation Group will be reading the poems of Yusef Komunyakaa. Maybe you’ll want to start your own poetry group. Or purchase “Ballistics,” the latest from Billy Collins. Poem In Your Pocket Day is coming up on April 30th. And here are 30 more ways to honor poets and poems. Whatever you choose to do, celebrate poetry!
-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, April 7th, 2009
-related posts and links: NPR: Reading List & Interview with Billy Collins, Got Poetry? (National Poem In Your Pocket Day), Billy Collins Reads “The Lanyard” on YouTube , PBS Online NewsHour: Billy Collins Interview, December 10th, 2001 — the week following his inaugural reading at the Library of Congress after becoming U.S. Poet Laureate, Poetry 180 — a poem a day for american high schools