Monday, April 28, 2014

My Hero

For last Thursday’s Poem in Your Pocket Day, I chose “My Hero” by Billy Collins.

It’s a wonderful take on the old fable The Tortoise and the Hare. You can check it out here (it’s the second poem featured on the page).

I thought it was especially fitting because Billy Collins happens to be a poet-hero of mine.


Oh, let me count the whys…

1. Billy Collins has achieved the near-impossible as a poet — critical acclaim AND mass appeal.

2. He’s unbound those old bedfellows — poetry and poverty. His last three collections of poems have broken all sales records for poetry, and his publishers confirm six-figure advances (rumors say they’re a cool million).

3. Collins advocates accessible poetry over “difficult” poetry. And he’s got a lot of credibility in this department — he was once a “difficult” poet whose goal was to blurt out inner torment while employing clever verbal effects.  As he puts it, “I think I kind of bought into the assumption that poetry had to be extremely gloomy and incomprehensible, or nearly so.”

The change came when he stopped taking himself so seriously and dared to be clear. He says, “I think clarity is the real risk in poetry because you are exposed. You're out in the open field. You're actually saying things that are comprehensible, and it's easy to criticize something you can understand.”

4. He’s a late bloomer. Collins didn't even start writing poetry until he was in his 40’s, yet managed to get down to business. By the age of 60 he was the United States Poet Laureate (2001 to 2003).

5He encourages the use of humor. When asked why, he responds with “You could just as easily ask, ‘Why is there so much seriousness in poetry?’”

Amen, Brother.

Along those lines, Collins includes Warner Brothers’ Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes on his list of creative influences.

So, what is the Collins Recipe for Poetic Success?

He says you need four basic qualities to be a good poet:

1. Attentiveness
2. A love of language
3. A gratitude for life


4. Laziness! (Collins admits that he’s unable to write for more than a half hour a day)

Well, I don’t know about you, but I've got those last three down cold, so I’m practically home free!

By the way, if you happen to run into me pecking away in a Pacific Northwest coffee shop, you might notice that two lanyards adorn my computer bag. They prove that I’m not the only Billy Collins fan in my household.

Years ago, my children made them for me after hearing his reading of “The Lanyard”.


We’re even.

PROMPT: Pick a tale — fable, fairy, or tall — and poetify it. Tell us the lyrical perspective of Babe the Blue Ox or Cinderella’s shoe. Bonus points for adding humor and naps to your day.


  1. My daughter and I heard Billy Collins speak years ago, and he was great. The Tortoise and the Hare--so appropriate for writers seeking publication. It's a long road, but slow and steady... ;)

    1. Ah, writers and tortoises -- at least we've always got cozy homes right there with us, and we never miss the flowers. Dawn, I'm thinking you need a lanyard for Mother's Day.. HINT HINT to daughter.