Monday, April 22, 2013

Reads for Writers: Billy Collins Provides a Masterclass


From Kate's Writing Crate...

             As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.
            Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don't generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, back stories, plots, settings, voice and/or creativity.

                In honor of Poetry Month, I recommend reading any poetry that appeals to you. Poets have  ways of distilling ordinary moments into memorable lines. 

As I read a poem, I underline any phrases that "speak" to me. Sometimes I copy them into my notebooks to use as prompts when I am feeling blocked as they give me new viewpoints to ponder.

                I am in awe of poets as they constantly see details I miss in everyday items and events. Their similes and metaphors keep our language lively, electric even.  Oh to be able to compare, contrast, and sum up our experiences in such succinct, precise, and mind-opening lines.

Who among us cannot quote a stanza, if not a whole  poem? I can still recite two I learned in grade school, but I prefer poems I have come across a bit later in life.

One of my favorite poets is Billy Collins, a Poet Laureate of the United States. His poems make me think, laugh, and pay attention. I think he is an excellent gateway poet—easy to relate to, but with a depth that makes you consider his word choices as carefully as he chose them.

For writers, I love two poems in his book Picnic, Lightning:  "In the Room of a Thousand Miles" and "Lines Lost Among the Trees".  

While his poem "In a Room of a Thousand Miles" focuses more locally for him literally and on the distance between himself and his wife figuratively, I found it a great definition of imagination for me. When you write, aren't you in a room of a thousand miles, a thousand years, a thousand places? We can write about anything we can imagine. Place, time, and space are all up to us, but the details are what ground the writing, make it real and believable.

"Lines Lost Among the Trees" is an elegy for all the phrases, words, and  ideas that slipped from his mind before he could reach pen and paper or wake from his dreams—something all writers have experienced and regret.

In his book Sailing Alone Around the Room, I love "Tuesday, June 4, 1991". He captures an ordinary writing day for him in the company of imaginary secretaries and stenographers, Samuel Pepys, a slow vocal rendition of "You Don't Know What Love Is", time unrolling like an intricate carpet, a small vase of faded flowers, and dawn the next day arriving as the ancients imagined.

In his book The Art of Drowning, his poem "Budapest" makes me smile as he transforms the physical act of writing, pen in hand, into a mythical creature foraging across the page. Good company for any writers feeling too solitary as they meet their daily word counts.

Who are your favorite poets?

1 comment:

  1. My degree is in English, so I state with great embarrassment that I am not fond of poetry. Two poets speak to me: William Wordsworth, Walt Whitman.

    Wordswroth's "Ode:Intimations of Immortality" is to me the most in a eulogy for my Mom. So beautiful. The poem yes, but I mean my mother.