Billy Collins on recognizing a good poem

The Rattle Bag: How did you get better at recognizing the makings of a good poem?

Collins: I think just practice, trial and error, and spending too much time on poems that weren’t going anywhere, trying to force poems into being. Through that frustration you realize that you can’t completely force a poem into being. It has to sprout or grow on its own. You just nudge it along.

TRB: With poems that are very specifically laid out, do you plan those in advance or is it all just a ride that you don’t expect?

Collins: It’s kind of a combination. I don’t think too far ahead. I certainly don’t determine the tone. I might have a subject matter, say with that “Statues in the Park,” I knew that the subject of the poem was going to be statues in the park. It might have drifted away from that at some point. But I never know where a turn is going to take place. Turns or shifts are very necessary in my poems because the beginnings of my poems are uninteresting. Sometimes I know, here is the subject, statues in the park. But I never know the resolution. And I would say that 90 percent of the thrill of writing is moving toward an unknown destination which you are actually going to create. The poem is kind of a pathway to its ending. It’s the only way to access its own ending, and that progress through the poem to the ending is the most compelling part of writing for me.


About genemyers

Gene Myers is a New Jersey poet, music journalist and columnist who learned to walk twice. His weekly column is called The Joy of Life. He was awarded first place in Arts and Entertainment Writing by The New Jersey Press Association.
This entry was posted in interview, poetry and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Billy Collins on recognizing a good poem

  1. D. Thornton says:

    Thanks for sharing this. Billy Collins is one of my favorite poets and it is always nice to hear insights from such talented people.

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