Monday, November 8, 2010

In Which We Do Culture

Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the United States, stand up comic.

That's what I thought to myself 30 seconds into Mr. Collins first speech yesterday afternoon, when the Ladies Who Do Culture (the Lady Scientists) and I attended the Poetry Center's presentation of Billy Collins and Friends at the university. I have heard him interviewed several times on the radio, so I knew that I would enjoy the program. I had no idea how funny he really was, with the self-deprecating humor that real geniuses have. Together with his enthusiasm for his poetry, and listening to him read his own words, it was an amazing afternoon. Dave Fitzsimmons, local political cartoonist, followed Mr. Collins and was introduced by him, and when Mr. Ftizsimmons got to the lectern, he squeaked in a very excited voice "Billy Collins said my name!!" That's how excited everyone in the audience was. It was great seeing lots of college students and a fair number of the under twelve set there.

The high point, in some ways completely illustrating what I felt was the genuine humility and sense of humor Billy Collins possesses, began his second sojourn at the lectern, when he read his own poetry. He said he was going to let a friend of his read the poem, as he had it memorized, and as it was a poem without rhyme or meter to make it easy, that made it some feat, and he said his friend read it better than him. Then he turned and started the following video of "Litany."

Turns out they are local, and he's now 4 years old, and at the end of Billy Collins reading, the little boy came on stage. At first Mr. Collins couldn't see him, but when he did, he ran over, grabbed his hand and led him to the center of the stage and tried to get him to bow. Then poet and boy walked back to Mr. Collins' seat and sat through the final speech and poem by the director of the Poetry Center.

Billy Collins recited his hilarious poem, written from the dog's perspective, that begins after the dog has been put to sleep with the admission by the dog that he always hated his owner, his owner never scratched him in the right place, etc.; very funny, and several selections from his next book due out in the spring.

Another confirmation that true genius is humble, intensely interested in its own art or science but appreciative of others, and able to laugh at his or herself with an appropriate understanding of reality and importance of the grand scheme of things.

And note the bird and nest motif on the program. Perfect for the Mossy Nest.

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