I just had the pleasure of shaking hands and chatting with the wonderful Billy Collins — who will be speaking to the entire National Writing Project assembly in the next hour. Andrea, Aram and I (thanks to Aram for pointing him out) let Billy Collins know how much we love his poetry and we talked briefly about teaching poetry in schools and whether teachers in the NWP wrote poetry themselves (or, he asked, were we a small minority? We — he called the three of us poets, which we are but still … Billy Collins ackowledged it for us.)
For the record, he was very gracious and did not seem to mind being interrupted by us three writing teachers. I think. Who can tell, really? But it was worth it.
I called my wife to let her know. “I Met Billy Collins,” to which she quickly replied: “Did you tell him that your loving wife bought you a Billy Collins book for Christmas last year?”
Gulp. Nope. Sorry, honey.
But I did once write a poem about Billy Collins, or about being inspired by Billy Collins’ poetry. This was back when I was starting a OnepoemPerMonthforaYear project.
Talking Billy Collins Blues
I called on Billy Collins last night
And he asked me outright if I was disturbed
To which I replied,
Yes, slightly, sorry for the intrusion
but how do you write a poem
every month for a year
And where do I look for lost words
— the ones I have misplaced with time?
Billy slipped me a piece of paper when we were done
leaving me alone with nothing much but that paper.
I could just make out some red ink scribbles
and a few doodles
when I held that thin skin of a tree up to the light
and let the paper become a translucent buffer
and the muse.
I held Billy Collins in my hand for hours,
like the last drink of the night when daylight is looming,
afraid to even look
because if it did hold the key
then my search would be over
and why write poems after that?
So I crumpled Billy up
and tossed him into the street bin
(apologizing profusely for being so impolite)
and I chased my own shadow all the way back home
in the darkness of memories.
And that’s when I really began to write.
Peace (in the poems),