Interesting contrast this weekend. My friend's parent's came down this weekend and they love Billy Collins. They are both doctors and extremely nice.
So first, I went to the beat conference and watched Pull My Daisy and heard David Amram and Michael McClure. I was a little skeptical about the popular appeal of the beats in terms of fashion etc. I went up to a white haired gentleman before the reading and timidly asked for a signature. I folded my hands and spoke in a gentle voice. Humility before a giant etc. He said he could spare a few minutes to sign my book. So I pulled out September Blackberries and he looked at me funny and said, "I think you want Michael McClure to sign that." How embarrassing. All that humility for the wrong man.
Michael McClure and David Amram were fab. He reads really well. Sometimes I felt a little uneasy about the almost cliched spirituality, but all in all I felt alive and all. David Amram was especially amazing. Good crowd.
Then Sunday came and in honor of Randall Jarrell and National Poetry Month Greensboro organized the first annual Randall Jarrell conference. As I entered the packed theater I received a sticker saying Poetry GSO. The airport code of Greensboro. On the program it talked about Billy Collins being the first poet since Robert Frost to appeal to both the people and the critics. It also listed all the poet laureates for all the local high schools. The high school poet laureates were honored at the beginning of the event. Which might not be so bad. Eventually, if not already, the term laureate will cease to carry elitism.
I was fascinated by the response of Billy's poetry. One of the guys behind me called out the lines before Billy said them (says a lot since he said he'd never read a lick of Billy Collins).
The huge audience laughed at every line of every Billy Collins poem. One of my friends said he is really interested in the combination of tragedy and comedy. But it was all comedy. Where's the tragedy? The moments of surface level sentiment were meant to take the listeners from laughing to crying?
Then again, what's the matter with some laughter?
He got a long standing ovation.
So, I am interested in the function of Billy Collins. Sure some may claim Collins is AM radio and that they have more sophicated "tastes." Some do not appreciate the politics behind the poetry of Billy Collins. But many friends who are fiction writers said they enjoyed Billy's reading because it didn't make them feel stupid. They didn't have to preface their comments with "I'm not an expert, but. . ."
I hate that preface.
My wife suggested that perhaps Billy Collins might work for a 6th grade introduction to contemporary poetry.
When I first heard Billy Collins a few years ago on NRP I was taken by his easy going voice. I wanted to fling open the windows, put up my feet, smoke a cigar, and sigh with contentment.
Why should I resent Billy Collins the person. He's doing the same thing he did before fame. He seems like a really nice fella.
Is it possible to attack the poetry without attacking the poet?
Oh, dear me. All manner of hero worship.