Monday, March 10, 2014

Right here, on our stage, Billy Collins

Billy Collins
Kentucky Author Forum

My second literary find on the DVD shelves of the library was an interview with American poet Billy Collins. It was actually recorded here in 2011 as one of the University of Louisville Kentucky Author Forum events that have been going on since 1996. 

These interviews, which are staged about four times a year, involve a well-known author and a sometimes well-known interviewer. They are filmed before a live audience. The stage set consists of a large wooden desk, two leather chairs, a bookshelf full of books and the ubiquitous green plants. It is all quite literary and civilized.

But back to Mr. Collins. He was interviewed by the very expressive author and radio personality Garrison Keillor. I was fascinated by the contrast between the two men. There sat Mr. K, who by all accounts was having a very bad hair day, looking like a great shaggy bear. (For all I know it may have been a bear in a Garrison Keillor costume.) 

Then we had the dapper Mr. Collins, past poet laureate. I was entranced by his graceful movements and by how completely comfortable he was in front of his audience and the cameras. Such a gentleman. 

The interview consisted of short monologues in the form of questions by Mr. K followed by responses from Mr. C. He also read a couple of his poems. I loved hearing him read and am a devoted fan. 

He talked of his persona in his poems. The real Billy Collins drinks coffee. His poet persona drinks tea. They both, however, like dogs and jazz. His poems, he said, are not about past events but are an effort to create current experiences on the page.

The show ran about 60 minutes. The best news is that you can watch this interview as it is archived on the local public television station's website: This should link you to the page with the listings of past shows. Your own public television station may broadcast these programs under the name "Great Conversations". If not, you can watch on your computer such worthies as E.L. Doctorow, Stephen Pinker, Erik Larson, Rosanne Cash, Madeleine Albright, and Margaret Atwood.

All for free; all for you. 

Because I don't own a television, I didn't realize that these programs were broadcast and I certainly didn't know that they were available on the station's website. 

A treasure trove of  literary finds indeed!


  1. Belle, you don't own a television! Yay. Good for you! We do have one, but there have been periods when we have not.

    I love your very funny description of Garrison Keillor. I very much enjoy interviews with authors, and will look for this. I just realized I don't know who the Poet Laureate is now, so i'd better look it up.

  2. Ah, Kat, I had to look up the current poet laureate too...Natasha Tretheway. She also won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2007. I must investigate her!

    Even though I don't own a television, I am not above renting DVDs and watching an entire season of a program. I believe they call it binge viewing!

  3. Still my heart! What a find! I wondered when you hinted as you did, Belle, and am so thrilled to have the link, which I've bookmarked for a bit of time to dedicate to listening. I'm actually excited. Even though I've heard Billy Collins read his poetry, I have not seen him - and soon shall.

    I just love when these "things" happen. Thank you.

    1. Oh, Penny, knowing your fondness for Mr. Collins I thought you would be thrilled to have access to this program. He is a delight to watch and hear. I know you will enjoy him! And if you don't already know it, you will learn the definition of the word 'limpid'.

      In 2003, when he was still poet laureate, I attended a reading/lecture that he gave at a private university here. He was wonderful. I don't remember how I happened to be introduced to his work but I have long been a fan.

  4. Hi Belle
    I have just one book of Billy's poems "Sailing Alone Around the Room" I found it at one of the Library book sale recently and your post reminded me to look and see if the poem on Emily Dickinson was included. Yes it is and after reading it over half-a-dozen times I am enthralled. He captures so much of Emily and her seclusion, the "white dress" etc., I must admit I didn't know much of his work until a few months ago when I heard "Forgetfulness" on BBC 4 "Poetry Please" and was captivated. So glad you have affirmed I need to read more of his work. As an aside speaking of Emily, as one smitten with her for a very long time, please get your hands on " Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds" it is a great read but one which will leave you most annoyed by her treatment by Mabel Todd and how Emily's image was forever (?) misshapen in death. It gets my blood boiling just thinking about it! Thanks again.

    1. Oh, yes, Tullik. 'Forgetfulness' is one of my favorites. What a lovely introduction to Mr. Collins!

      If you get a chance to watch the interview program, he does read his Emily Dickinson poem. He says it was written at a time when all sorts of articles and papers were being written speculating on her 'sexual preferences'. He thought he would just put all that to his own charming way. I love the line...'how there were sudden dashes whenever we spoke.' Ha!

      Thanks for the "Lives" recommendation.