In a packed Hendricks Chapel on a clear autumn night, Billy Collins graced an intent audience with his artistry, warm presence and sense of humor.
As part of the 2013 University Lectures, the community was not only privileged to hear Collins speak, but was also able to share a moment of joy with him, as he found out that his book of poetry entitled Aimless Love, reached No. 15 on The New York Times Bestseller List just minutes before he stood in front of the audience.
A feat deemed as outstanding for a compilation of poesy, English Prof. Brooks Haxton provided an introduction to Collins’ work said, “That’s a list of all the books! Not just poems.”
Part of Haxton’s introduction included that Collins was also the recipient of the Mark Twain Award for Humor in Poetry. Despite this, Collins responded, “They call it the Mark Twain prize, but he’s not a poet.”
As he dove into the core themes of his poetry, Collins, a United States Poet Laureate 2001-03 and New York State Poet Laureate 2004-06, mentioned that “tragedy is just insufficiently developed comedy.”
It is with this kind of earnest and generous wittiness that Collins took the Syracuse community on an insightful journey of the exploration of human nature through poetry.
As Collins read some of his favorite poems with tranquility in his voice, the audience greeted his works with uproars of applause, or, as Collins called them, “communal sighs.”
With poems such as “Divorced,” he said they “just don’t make sense without a title;” though with others, a title is just “frosting on the cake.” The crowd loved the poem “Oh, My God!” as well.
Florida really opened the New York native's perspective on the evergreen flora and fauna,he said, which in turn, inspired such poems as “The Revenant.”
He also said that curiosity is something that drives his writing on a constant basis. The opportunities are endless, and Collins takes great pleasure in exploring the unknown of “where can this thing possibly go?”
Also, he said he vastly enjoys writing “emotionally poignant” haikus. Collins is a humble man filled with an abundant amount of experience, which he referenced between readings, providing anecdotes from different times in his life that he clearly holds close to his heart.
From hearing Collins speak, Syracuse University student Kaya Bulbul said he understands that poetry can be light-hearted.
“I feel like I’ve laughed more now than for most comedy movies I’ve watched,” Bulbul said.
Collins concluded the evening by leaving the audience with a new sense of appreciation for poetry, adding one final point: have “faith in imagination.”