Billy Collins
Poet; Former U.S. Poet Laureate
03:04

Do you have a personal philosophy?

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A haiku is like smashing an atom.

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: I think it’s probably a matter of value . . . valuing attention. Valuing paying attention and valuing the moment, and realizing that the present is the most elusive of all. You know, you can stabilize the past because “there it is”. Or you can at least stabilize a set of memories and call it the past. You can stabilize the future in that even though you can’t know it, you can project a future and you can dream about it. Or you can just think of it as an object of curiosity. But the present is always disappearing. And there are ways to slow down this flood of time through just a kind of little meditation or juststopping and looking. I think that’s the thing I value, and that’s what I probably am in that state a half percent of the time; but the poetry tries to get into that; a lot of it does, anyway . . . tries to get into that state and arrest one of those moments.

I have this kind of crackpot analogy which is this is old atomic theory. But if you took an atom and you smash it, you know . . . Matter is composed of atoms and you smashed one and it releases this staggering amount of energy. Time is composed not of atoms, but of moments. And if you smash a moment, there’s also this amazing release. And the way you smash a moment is not with a cyclotron, but through attention. You smash a moment by fixing it in your mind. And I think a lot of poetry. Haiku is a good example. Most little haiku poems are just interested in isolating a moment; but that moment becomes a tiny thing. And suddenly it becomes everything at once. That’s powerful.

 July 4, 2007


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