The Trouble With Poetry

A poetry review of Billy Collins' poems The Student and The Trouble With Poetry.

Billy Collins is an American poet and author. He was once the Poet Laureate of the United States (2001-2003). He is a retired professor who still is teaching today through MasterClass.

It was on a whim I picked up Billy Collins’ book, The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems. Perusing the poetry section of a big box book store (they still exist if you look for them) the selection disappointed me. Most poetry I found the authors are trying to hard, or not trying hard enough. Poetry is best when “try” isn’t even a verb used with “write”. Picking up Collins’ book, I got the feeling his work was different. There was no try, only do.

I am delighted in picking up this book. Where many try or don’t try, Collins does. The poetry in this book has no rhyme, lines laid out for function and sight. It feels lite, airy, and “just so.” His work feels it has no effort behind them, yet the words paints pictures on top of pictures.

What does he speak of?

Everyday happenings, intersections of people, places, and things, colors and feels and tastes and sounds.

Two of my favorite from the book are The Student and The Trouble With Poetry, the title of the book. Each speaks of writing poetry - the irony and the joy of it.

In The Student he writes:

My poetry instruction book,

which I bought at the outdoor stall along the river,

contains many rules

about what to avoid and what to follow,

In poetic irony Collins mentions a rule from his rule book and presently breaks that rule within the poem, sometimes just by writing a few lines.

Avoid the word vortex,

the word velvety, and the word cicada.

The rule of keeping the poem within one season made me smile, as Collins walks from summer to winter in just six lines.

There has been much ink spilled discussing supposed rules for poetry. What I feel Collins is doing is showing one does not have to follow someone else's rules to write poetry. One must make their own rules and stick to them, though not too rigidly.

The poem that I related most to is his The Trouble With Poetry.

He writes:

the trouble with poetry is

that it encourages the writing of more poetry,

more guppies crowding the fish tank,

more baby rabbits

hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.

This is so true. It is said the only people who buy poetry books are other poets. And like breeding rabbits, poets breed more poets who breed more poetry for the poets.

Poetry spurs my own poetry - it moves me to see what is possible. And like Collins, poetry moves me to joy, and also grief. It moves me to write even when I have nothing to write about. I excavate poetry of others and perhaps “steal” a metaphor or two.

In the end, Billy Collins’ book, The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems, makes me want to write more poetry (and buy more poetry books).

Have you read Billy Collins’ poetry? Who would you recommend I read next?