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Grace Cavalieri Interview Poet Laureate Billy Collins

Grace Cavalieri Interview Poet Laureate Billy Collins

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Published by: Kevin Cabano on Apr 01, 2010
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08/03/2012

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Title: Grace Cavalieri Interviews Poet Laureate Billy CollinsAuthor(s):Billy CollinsandGrace Cavalieri  Publication Details: Pembroke Magazine 35 (2003): p252-269.Source:
 Poetry Criticism
. Ed. Michelle Lee. Vol. 68. Detroit: Gale, 2006. From
 Literature Resource Center 
.Document Type: Critical essay, InterviewBookmark:Bookmark this Document 
Full Text:
COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale, COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning[(interview date December 2001)
 I 
n the following interview, conducted in December 2001,Cavalieri and Collins discuss his career as a poet and teacher and his duties as the United States Poet Laureate.
]
 This interview was conducted at the Library of Congress, December 2001. Grace Cavalieri produces and hosts "The Poet and the Poem." The series is delivered to public radio via NPR satellite. Billy Collins's most recent books of poetry include a volume of new and selected poems,
 Sa
iling Alone Around the Room
(Random House, 2001),
 Picnic, Lightning 
(Universityof Pittsburgh Press, 1998);
The Art of Drowning 
(1995), and,
Questions About Angels
(1991.)
Cavalieri]: This is "The Poet and the Poem, from the Library of Congress." 
 I' 
m GraceCavalieri. Our guest today is Billy Collins, Poet Laureate of the United States.
 I' 
d first like to ask about the poem prefacing your book,
 Picnic, Lightning.
 [Collins
]
: This is a poem that's based on a quotation by William Butler Yeats. Yeats said that a poet never speaks directly as to someone at the breakfast table, and I have expressed mydisagreement with him in this poem entitled
"A
Portrait of the Reader with a Bowl of Cereal.
"
 
"A
Portrait of the Reader with a Bowl of Cereal
"
 
"A poet ... never speaks directly,
 
as to someone at the breakfast table." 
 Every morning I sit across from youat the same small table,the sun all over the breakfast things--curve of a blue-and-white pitcher,
 
a dish of berries--me in a sweatshirt or robe,you invisible.Most days, we are suspendedover a deep pool of silence.I stare straight through youor look out the window at the gardenthe powerful sky,a cloud passing behind a tree.There is no need to pass the toast,the pot of jam,or pour you a cup of tea,and I can hide behind the paper,rotate in its drum of calamitous news.But some days I may noticea little door swinging openin the morning air,and maybe the tea leavesof some dream will be stuck to the china slope of the hour--then I will lean forward,elbows on the table,with something to tell you,and you will look up, as always,your spoon dripping milk, ready to listen.
 
 Billy Collins is just officially inaugurated to be our eleventh Poet Laureate of the United States.
 I' 
m not going to ask what a Poet Laureate does, because you are remarking how everyone wantsto know this, even though my dentist did ask me yesterday. But, maybe it would be good to knowthat the Laureate is given a clean slate to do what he wants.
 Well, the American Poet Laureate is very different from the British. Laureate, first of all, has avery antique ring to it. I mean it sounds very British and it kind of goes with ascots, and wearingspats and carrying a walking stick or something like that. And people like John Dryden come tomind, or Tennyson who was Poet Laureate--I think he holds the record of 42 years. Well inAmerica we have a souped up version of the British Laureateship, in that the Poet Laureate hereserves for only one year, and so we have a very quick turnover. I think the original British ideawas that the Poet Laureate was attached to the Royal household and wrote poems on the birth of an heir, or a wedding, or something like that. In America, as you say, the Poet Laureate can moreor less write his or her own ticket. And the nebulous part of the job is that you are asked to definethe job as you go along.
 I 
think that we could comment on what it means for a country to even have a post for Poet  Laureate.
 I 
think that 
 s the more important question.
 Well, we don't have a Prose Laureate; we don't have a Short Story Laureate, or a Film Director Laureate ... it's just poetry. It
does
say something about poetry, doesn't it? I'm not sure exactlywhat, but it's certainly a nod to the centrality, or the deep significance of what poetry is to perhaps any culture. I mean the fact that the Library of Congress since I think 1936 has had whatthey call a Consultant in Poetry, which then turned into the Laureate in I think 1986. But the factthat the Library would want to install a poet in an office, so that he or she could be consultedabout any poetry matters that come up certainly gives a sense of the significance of poetry to aculture.
When you were not a Poet Laureate, which were for more years than you are, you must have had an impression of it, looking from New York, Somers. New York. What did it look like they weredoing here?
 Oh it looked very far away. I viewed the Laureateship, when I did, not with any kind of envy, or desire to move in that direction, but as if looking at it through the wrong end of a telescope, tinyfigures in the distance, doing I don't know what. I mean hanging around Washington, and sittingon their laurels, maybe.
 I' 
d like to hear about the poem you read last night,
 S 
now D
a
 y,
and then talk about your  personal agenda.
 
"Sn
ow Day
"
is about that time when it snows so much that the day is declared by some"official" to be a snow day for schools, and then our lives change in certain way.

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