Billy Collins: Well first of all, I’m not terribly unhappy that poetry has a small audience. This is not something that keeps me up at night. One of the reasons it has a small audience is that there’s a lot of unreadable poetry being written. So I don’t see it as the fault of a Philistine, poetry-hating, barbarian public. I think it’s just as much the fault of poets who ignore their readers and write . . . either indulge in self-expression period, and that’s a highly rated, over-rated activity because no one really cares about you the stranger. Or they write terribly obscure, riddle type poetry.
And many times you get a vicious combination of self-expression and obscurity. So who would want to read it in the first place? And like jazz, or like chamber music, or like keeping tropical fish, poetry has a fairly small, but very intense audience. And often the smaller the audience, the more intense the participants feel about this interest. I mean you can compare that to television. It has a broad audience, but I don’t think anyone carries an intensity about it. They just watch it.