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Introduction to Poetry

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.

—Billy Collins

from The Apple that Astonished Paris, 1996
University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, Ark.

Reprinted by permission of the University of Arkansas Press.
Copyright 1988 by Billy Collins.

For further permissions information, contact the University of Arkansas Press, 201 Ozark Avenue, Fayetteville, AR 72701.

Poetry 180

About the Poet

Billy Collins (1941- ) served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. He is one of America’s best-selling poets. His books include Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems in 2001, Picnic, Lightning in 1998, and The Art of Drowning in 1995. In October 2004, Collins was the inaugural recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s Mark Twain Award for humorous poetry. He has served as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library and he is a distinguished professor of English at Lehman College, City University of New York, where he has taught for the past 30 years.

Learn more about Billy Collins.