Apr. 12, 2007

The Movies

by Billy Collins

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "The Movies" by Billy Collins from Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems. © Random House. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Movies

I would like to watch a movie tonight
in which a stranger rides into town
or where someone embarks on a long journey,

a movie with the promise of danger,
danger visited upon the citizens of the town
by the stranger who rides in,

or the danger that will befall the person
on his or her long hazardous journey—
it hardly matters to me

so long as I am not in danger,
and not much danger lies in watching
a movie, you might as well agree.

I would prefer to watch this movie at home
than walk out in the cold to a theater
and stand on line for a ticket.

I want to watch it lying down
with the bed hitched up to the television
the way they'd hitch up a stagecoach

to a team of horses
so the movie could pull me along
the crooked, dusty road of its adventures.

I would stay out of harm's way
by identifying with the characters
like the bartender in the movie about the stranger

who rides into town,
the fellow who knows enough to duck
when a chair shatters the mirror over the bar.

Or the stationmaster
in the movie about the perilous journey,
the fellow who fishes a gold watch from his pocket,

helps a lady onto the train,
and hands up a heavy satchel
to the man with the mustache

and the dangerous eyes,
waving the all-clear to the engineer.
Then the train would pull out of the station

and the movie would continue without me.
And at the end of the day
I would hang up my oval hat on a hook

and take the shortcut home to my two dogs,
my faithful, amorous wife, and my children—
Molly, Lucinda, and Harold, Jr.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1633 that Galileo Galilei was put on trial by the Inquisition, for supporting the theory that the Earth revolves around the sun. In late April 1633, Galileo agreed to plead guilty and was sentenced to an unlimited period of house arrest in his home in Florence. He gradually went blind and died in 1641. It wasn't until 1992 that the Catholic Church formally admitted that Galileo's views on the solar system are correct.

It's the birthday of children's book author Beverly Cleary, (books by this author) born in Yamhill, Oregon (1916). Her first book was Henry Huggins (1950), about a boy who tries to smuggle a dog onto a bus and keep him as his own, and it was a huge success. But she's best known for a series of books about a young girl named Ramona Quimby, including Ramona the Pest (1968), Ramona the Brave (1975), and Ramona Forever (1984).

It's the birthday of Tom Clancy, (books by this author) born in Baltimore, Maryland (1947). He was an insurance salesman, and he was doing well for himself, but he'd always wanted to be a writer. He had spent all his spare time reading magazines about military technology, such as Combat Fleets of the World and A Guide to the Soviet Navy, and one day he began to wonder what would happen if a Soviet submarine tried to defect to the United States. That became the basis for his first novel, The Hunt for Red October (1984).

Instead of focusing on the interactions between his characters, Clancy focused more on the technology. He described the soviet submarine in intricate detail, the way it moved and maneuvered, and all its weaponry and hardware. Since he didn't think the novel would appeal to a mass audience, he published it with a small military publishing house called the Naval Institute Press. But the book got passed around among officers and generals, and eventually made its way to Ronald Reagan, who said he loved it. That endorsement from the president helped turn The Hunt for Red October into a huge best-seller.

It's the birthday of Scott Turow, (books by this author) born in Chicago (1949). He decided to be a writer when he was in high school, and in college he started submitting short stories to literary magazines. But when he got into a creative writing program at Stanford, he realized that he wasn't cut out for the life of a starving artist. All the other writers he knew in California were addicted to alcohol or drugs, and marriages were breaking up left and right. On top of everything else, none of his classmates liked his writing. He said, "It finally dawned on me that I was not James Joyce. I wanted to be a genius, but I wasn't one."

So one day, he decided on a whim to take the Law School Admission Test, and he managed to score well enough to get into Harvard Law. He got a job as a prosecutor in Chicago, but for eight years, while he was riding back and forth to his job on the train, he began to write a novel. He didn't think he'd ever finish it, but his wife finally persuaded him to take three months off and get it done. He did, and the result was Presumed Innocent (1987), which became one of the best-selling books of the year.

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
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show