Introduction to Poetry

by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.


  1. Oh, I like this little poem. Very visual. Count Sneaky

  2. I second the thoughts of Count Sneaky...this is a wonderful, little poem!

  3. I confess, I'm guilty - I tie poems to chairs and beat them with a hose! I like straightforward poetry, but honestly, sometimes poems are just so cleverly written that my humankind of mind cannot catch the meaning - I usually like the flow of words on my tongue though.

  4. The wind
    is a wicked force,
    pollen's best friend,
    not given to favors
    or piety
    or warmth and tenderness,
    always the worker
    never the lover
    on cold winter nights.

  5. Love this poem by Mr. Collins! As an English teacher, I appreciate it. What terrible things can be done to literature in the classroom!

  6. It seemed to be all a green surface
    Did not know that there would be so many layers
    Only when the sun came out
    I could see the peak.

  7. Ah... are you celebrating his birthday too? I'm such a fan of Billy Collins!

  8. hhmmmm.. This is a nice little thing! It tripped out nicely from the screen. I agree with the sentiment too, it's a pity when people lay so much meaning on something that essentially, sometimes is easier to just look at and hold and enjoy for it's lovliness.

  9. What a great poem! Takes me back to my schooldays.

  10. I used to use this poem in my English 1102 classes. In fact, it helped me realize that I don't really want to teach literature--I got tired of my students' insistence on "beating it [whatever poem or story we were talking about] with a hose/to find out what it really [i.e., what I wanted them to say about it] means." Now I just teach writing courses, and I'm much happier.

  11. "What it really means."

    It's tiresome. There are readers who war against ambiguity and insist on one and only one truth. And there are writers who think that being obscure makes them "deep and worthy" and not boring and pretentious. Both parties are Trying Too Hard.


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