Listening to Billy Collins on the Poetry Center's AVL

Adam DeLucaWhile perusing the Poetry Center's Audio Visual Library featuring poets who have read at the Center, I came across one poem titled "Litany" by Billy Collins. On the archives I was able to view this as a video and see him present the poem and how the audience reacted. Fortunately enough, Billy Collins has read at the Poetry Center a few times and I was able to see the reactions of two different audiences to this poem. In one of the videos, the audience was bawling in laughter after every line; however, in the other video you could hear a pin drop in the audience. So I guess this poem can be taken multiple ways depending on how you look at it.

Personally, if I had to choose I would have fit in with the laughing crowd. The poem "Litany" is a love poem, I guess. It starts out with a bunch of metaphors addressed to an other such as, "you are the bread and the knife, the crystal goblet and the wine." The metaphors are somewhat strange, which I guess is where the audience can perceive them as funny or not.

However towards the middle of the poem, the speaker switches and starts comparing the other to what s/he is not. For example, "You are certainly not the pine-scented air. There is just no way you are the pine-scented air." These lines add humor to the poem because they so abruptly change the tone of the poem from serious to much less serious. As the poem continues, the speaker uses metaphors about what he is, and it appears that he starts to put down the other sarcastically and boost himself a little bit with lines like, "I also happen to be the shooting star, the evening paper blowing down an alley."

So personally, when the poem was over I saw the humor in it and was amused, but I would recommend listening to it and trying to see what you get out of it.

--Adam DeLuca, Poetry Center Summer Intern

Created on: 
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Arizona Board of Regents