Billy Collins
Poet; Former U.S. Poet Laureate
02:45

A Poem For Mother's Day

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A gift from Billy Collins

Billy Collins

One of the most popular living poets in the United States, Billy Collins was born in New York City in 1941. Collins is the author of nine books of poetry, including She Was Just Seventeen (2006), The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems (2005), Nine Horses (2002), and Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems (2001). His work appears regularly in such periodicals as Poetry, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Harper's Magazine, and has been featured in various textbooks and anthologies, including those for the Pushcart Prize and the annual Best American Poetry series. Between 2001 and 2004, Collins served two terms at the 11th Poet Laureate of the United States. In his home state, Collins has been recognized as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library (1992) and selected as the New York State Poet for 2004. Other honors include fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation, and the first annual Mark Twain Prize for Humor in Poetry. He is currently a Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College in the Bronx, where has taught for over thirty years. Ideas recorded at the 2007 Aspen Ideas Festival on: 7/4/07
Transcript

Billy Collins: This is a . . . this is a poem about a small, trivial thing that is . . . I’m kind of using to access a bigger topic.  It’s about something that children do in the summertime.  It’s called “The Lanyard”.“The other day as I was ricocheting slowly off the pail, blue walls of this room, bouncing from typewriter to piano, from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor, I found myself in the “L” section of the dictionary where my eyes fell upon the word “lanyard”.  No cookie nibbled by a French novelist could send one more suddenly into the past – the past where I sat at a work bench at a camp by a deep Adirondack lake learning how to braid thin plastic strips into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.  I had never seen anyone use a lanyard, or wear one if that’s what you did with them.  But that did not keep me from crossing strand over strand, again and again, until I had made a boxy, red and white lanyard for my mother.  She gave me life and milk from her breasts, and I gave her a lanyard.  She nursed me in many a sickroom, lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips, set cold facecloths on my forehead, and then led me out into the airy light and taught me to walk and swim.  And I in turn presented her with a lanyard.“Here are thousands of meals,” she said, “and here is clothing and a good education.”“And here is your lanyard,” I replied, which I made with a little help from a counselor. “Here is a breathing body and a beating heart, strong legs, bones and teeth, and two clear eyes to read the world,” she whispered.“And here,” I said, “is the lanyard I made at camp.”And here, I wish to say to her now, is a smaller gift.  Not the archaic truth that you can never repay your mother, but the rueful admission that when she took the two-toned lanyard from my hands, I was as sure as a boy could be that this useless, worthless thing I wove out of boredom would be enough to make us even.”


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