Literary Immersion Interlude: A Night with Billy Collins

It’s worth interrupting this thread to talk about the reading I attended last night…

Billy Collins is a distinguished professor of English at Lehman College of the City University of New York. He was also Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003, and Poet Laureate of New York State from 2004 to 2006. He is the author of nine collections of poetry, and editor of Poetry 180 and 180 More.

Needless to say it was quite an event. Having misguidedly quieted the tyrannical type-A person within, I casually picked up a writer friend of mine and we meandered over to the reading. We entered the small underground garage  and slowly snaked through the gridlocked aisles. At some point we all realized our dismal collective parking fate, my friend and I, and about a dozen other wild-eyed readers.

After hiking in from downtown, we finally reached the doors of Kepler’s. You’ll hear me talk a lot about this fabulous indie bookstore because I love it so. Walking in, it was like no other reading I’ve ever seen them host. Kepler’s may be an indie, but it’s good-sized. The entire center of the bookstore had been cleared and was filled with chairs, which of course were already filled with people. People leaned on end-caps and craned their necks from the far ends of aisles. I sat, folded up on the floor leaning against a rack of lit journals, at the upper edge of the room next to my friend. We soaked in the collective energy of the room from the best seats in the house.

Billy Collins read from his new book, Horoscopes for the Dead, along with some oldies and some fresh from the printer poems. He gave us insights and tidbits about the origin of each of the pieces, and many good laughs.

During the Q&A someone asked:

You write a lot about windows, what do windows mean to you?

To which he replied:

People who write fiction, do so because they are interested in other people, interested in looking into other people’s windows. They like to see how people move around and relate to one another.

Poets are only interested in themselves, they want to look out their own window and tell you what they see.

Of course I’m paraphrasing here, but that is the gist of his thoughts on windows and how they relate to the writer. Or rather, how the writer relates the view to the reader.

Collins also, upon request, read Lanyard. That is, after quipping, “What? You think I’m a poetry jukebox?” and laughing.

It was a wonderful night spent listening to words and thoughts, and being in the company of those who also love words. Sometimes I forget this feeling, the one we have when we go to readings and lit events. We get caught up in our lives, between work and family and writing, and sometimes our time shrinks so much we feel as if we’re living our hours in the red. But nights like these make me pause, think about what is really important to me. Nights like the one we were privileged to have with Billy Collins, are important.

Opportunities like these exist everywhere, all the time, and we’re missing them because we don’t want to drive to the city after work, or engage our brains, or find parking. We only realize what we miss when we experience a night with a great author, or hear a talk that makes us question our thoughts, or sit around with good friends talking about books and events. But, I’m just taking a wild stab in the dark here.

So here’s to packing in even more lit events!

Speaking of which:

The Rumpus’ “Friendly Gathering” with Zyzzyva is on Monday, April 11th at The Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd Street, in the Mission at 7pm. Tix $10 through brownpaper.

And…if you haven’t signed up to receive overly personal emails from author and Rumpus editor, Stephen Elliott, do it. You won’t regret it. Promise.

And…one more note on Billy Collins, check out his latest NPR interview.

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