Billy Collins is an undeniably exceptional poet. As a team, we were introduced to Collins at different stages of our lives: one member recalls her father sharing his favorite poem, Taking off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes, another described the experience of watching a recording of Collins reciting The Lanyard during a university class and feeling the buzzing energy of the lecture hall as students revelled in the comedic reminder of their inadequacies as children. For others, the heartwarming introduction to Collins was made by the truly phenomenal recitation of Litany by an adorable 3-year old that went viral several years ago.
In organizing this feature on Collins, the ARCANISA team discovered that almost all of us had the privilege of experiencing his poetry read aloud. Anyone who watched the Litany video can appreciate that there is something intimate and profound about recited poetry—an oral tradition that is increasingly absent in the modern world. However, in response to the current state of pandemic-induced isolation, amidst all the challenges of the time, Collins now offers daily poetry readings—both his own work and that of other inspiring talents—and streams these readings live via Facebook in order to share the performative power of recited poetry.
Poet Laureate of the United States for 3 years, Collins was heralded as “the most popular poet in America” by The New York Times and it is for that reason we feel his readings are so valuable. Collins stoic expression and relatably cluttered but nonetheless polished study decor featuring grasscloth wallpaper, a framed print of fish, and a Marshall speaker creates a backdrop of familiarity that ensures an accessible and inviting space. Anyone can watch his videos and feel welcomed; there are no aires of exclusivity or pretension inciting feelings of inadequacy. It is simply a man, casually sitting in his study, reading to you. It just happens that what he's reading is a glorious collection of poetry.
Through a string of poems, set between sweet intermittent monologues about life and jazz, Collins welcomes us into his home and comforts us with his gentle demeanor, judgement-free conversation, and impressive intellect. The Poetry Broadcast is a contemporary Mr. Rodgers' Neighborhood for quarantined adults in all the most magical ways—subbing poetry for puppets!—and we sincerely believe your life will be better for watching it.
While many artists and poets have begun conversations on social media during quarantine, Collins popularity, demeanor, and consistency create a poetry routine that will make even the most cynical listeners take note. And, if nothing else, we are confident you’ll smile while watching a brilliant man contemplate the decision of Warner Bros. to confiscate Elmer Fuud’s shot gun in Looney Tunes, but perhaps let him keep his hat, and the implications of that on Fudd’s struggles against Bugs Bunny. It's boldly endearing.
And, for those of us who have a more experienced ear for the spoken word, we find privilege in witnessing a phenomenal artist share an impressive cannon of poetry. These videos are lovingly recorded and graciously shared so that we, as participants in the digital community, can add a brief moment of cultural growth and warming sweetness to our home-bound days.
Here are a few videos of prior readings if you want a preview before watching one live!
28 May 2020 https://fb.watch/48Ngjam1jL/
23 July 2021 https://fb.watch/48MVUGWkOM/
15 January 2021 https://fb.watch/48M-0Ot_ri/