What a joy it is when a writer really connects with an audience — when author and audience are literally on the same page! The experience can be magical. Just recently, Alex and I had the good fortune to hear Billy Collins, a poet with an enthusiastic following and several best-selling collections, give a reading. What a delight! Not only was he witty and personable, so were his poems. There was something so fresh and immediate about them: They invited you into their world as if you were a guest at a tea party.
The poems Billy read were about chance moments and everyday happenings — the ordinary made extraordinary through sure-footed insight, wry humor, and witty words. There was nothing showy or self-absorbed about the poetry: it reached outward after reaching inward, so when listening to him reading, I felt included in whatever moment or thought he was experiencing. What a wonderful feeling!
All this is intentional on Billy’s part. He’s described himself as “reader conscious.” “I have one reader in mind,” he observes, “someone who is in the room with me, and who I’m talking to, and I want to make sure I don’t talk too fast, or too glibly. Usually I try to create a hospitable tone at the beginning of a poem. Stepping from the title to the first lines is like stepping into a canoe. A lot of things can go wrong.” …“I think my work has to do with a sense that we are attempting, all the time, to create a logical, rational path through the day. To the left and right there are an amazing set of distractions that we usually can’t afford to follow. But the poet is willing to stop anywhere.”
There’s something wonderful about the bond that Billy is seeking to create with his readers and about the “hospitable tone” he tries to strike early in a poem. Perhaps we can borrow a leaf from his book as we go about our own writing.