Billy Collins On The Great Poets

Coleridge's "Conversation" poems inspire much of Collins' work.
  • Transcript


Billy Collins: Well I mean poetry, I think, art moves in a kind of pendulum.  You can see even from the Greeks the argument as to whether literature should be in the common tongue, or should it be in an elevated language?   This pendulistic battle goes back and forth.  Wordsworth for instance, to go back to him, wanted to write poetry, as he said, in the speaking language of men the way . . . he wanted to get speech back into it. 

And so did Frost.  And as _____ also the idea of bringing . . . bringing poetry into context with common speech.  And the other camp would say that poetry has to be completely different from regular speech, that regular speech is down here and poetry takes place on another linguistic level.  Those two voices, or those two opposed positions, I think pretty much throughout the history of English literature at least, have determined these various movements back and forth.  And that would seem to be thanks to a number of poets that came after the high modernism of T.S. Elliot and Ezra Pound.  And you can add Harper and Wallace Stevens.  There’s been a movement back to the connection between poetry and common speech.  Those big modernists tried to get beyond personality.  They wanted to make something . . . poetry into something more than the expression of the individual personality.  But personality seems to have returned to poetry.