Sunday

Mar. 22, 2009

Introduction to Poetry

by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

"Introduction to Poetry" by Billy Collins, from The Apple That Astonished Paris. © University of Arkansas Press, 1996. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of James McManus, (books by this author) born in New York City (1951). He wrote the novels Out of the Blue (1984), Chin Music (1985), and Going to the Sun (1996). And he wrote a book about his experience at a poker tournament, entitled Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker (2003).

It's the birthday of the best-selling poet Billy Collins, (books by this author) born in Queens, New York (1941). He thinks that too much modern poetry lacks humor. He said: "It's the fault of the Romantics, who eliminated humor from poetry. Shakespeare's hilarious, Chaucer's hilarious. The Romantics killed off humor, and they also eliminated sex, things which were replaced by landscape. I thought that was a pretty bad trade-off, so I'm trying to write about humor and landscape, and occasionally sex."

He was in his 40s when he published his first book, The Apple That Astonished Paris (1988), and he has become one of the country's most popular poets. His book Sailing Alone Around the Room (2000) has sold almost 200,000 copies, more than any other book of poetry in this century. His collection Ballistics came out in 2008.

It's the birthday of Edith Grossman, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia (1936). Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, but Grossman became obsessed with Spanish. She said: "My high school Spanish teacher just reached me. I said whatever this woman is doing I want to do."

She went to Spain on a Fulbright grant to study medieval poetry. But when she began to read the poetry of Pablo Neruda and César Vallejo, Grossman decided to focus on contemporary Latin American literature.

She got a job as a professor of Spanish literature in New York City, and she translated a few complete novels. Then, in the mid-1980s, she set out to translate Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. She knew that William Faulkner was one of García Márquez's favorite English-language authors, so she used Faulkner's style as a guide for her translation. When her translation of Love in the Time of Cholera came out, it was such a success that she was able to quit teaching and begin translating full time. She has translated all of the books that García Márquez has published since 1990, and he calls her "my voice in English."

HarperCollins asked Grossman if she would consider translating Don Quixote. She worked on the book for two years straight. When it came out in 2003, it was hailed as the best English translation of the novel in a long time, and it became a huge best-seller.

Every morning Edith Grossman goes for a walk and works on a crossword puzzle before she starts her translation work.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »