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February 2002
CUNY Responds: Rebuilding New York
CUNY Alumnus/Prize-winning Journalist Reports from Islamabad, Jalalabad, Kabul
City Tech Students Envision Rebuilding St. Nicholas Church
U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins Mulls Emergency Service of Verse
John Jay College and FEMA Address Urban Hazards
Helping Students Write about Trauma
Biography of a Life Cut Violently Short
CUNY Law Practice In the Public Interest Since 9/11
Graduate Center 9/11 Digital Archive
Windows on the World Chef Returns to City Tech following 9/11
Walt Whitman Sums Up “Human and Heroic New York”
Inaugural Conference on "Women and Work"
For Alzheimer’s Patients Life’s a Stage
Kingsborough Center Incubator of Global Virtual Enterprises
Governor Proposes State Budget
White House Urged to Support Pell Grant Increase
President Jackson Named to Schools Board
Fine Way To Learn About Steinway

City College Scholar-Director Chosen Cultural Affairs Commissioner by Mayor

Claire Shulman Honored by QCC

CUNY Counsel Elected Legal Aid Society Chair

Law Dean Glen Honored by State Bar

“American Art at the Crossroads”—
April Symposium at Graduate Center

Challenging Summer for Students in Vassar/CUNY Program

 
 

Poet Laureate Collins Mulls Emergency Service of Verse

By Anne Perryman
Lehman College

Poet Laureate Billy Collins
In the days and weeks after September 11, we began to receive poetry in our mail and email. Memorial poetry readings were held in New York City and across the country. For many of us, there was solace to be found by opening and reading a book of poetry. "The grief we all felt was overwhelming,” said U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College. "Poetry can help us handle grief. It's a way to ritualize emotion and give it form.” Simple lines of evocative, lyric poetry can provide comfort amid loneliness and despair. "Poetry brings us into a community of feeling,” Collins sums up. "It is a reminder that civilization exists."

And—though we may be familiar with the ancient admonition carpe diem ("seize the day")—because we don't know how many others we will have, there's nothing more jolting than a catastrophic event to remind us of the importance, and the precariousness, of our daily life.

book

"I think September 11 gave people a sense of gratitude for being given another day, for being able to continue their lives,” Collins observed. One of the most enduring themes of poetry is the perishability of life; poetry stands as a reminder of that fact and as a way of honoring the bare fact of our existence.”
Poetry also underscores the sense of renewal that occurs through the seasons and through our everyday rituals, and these rituals are a common theme in Collins's poetry. In "Morning," he writes,


This is the best—
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house
xxxon espresso—


And beneath the daily rituals is always
the sense of gratitude:


maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins—
but mostly buzzing around the house
xxx on espresso.


In his poem "Days," Collins writes:

Each one is a gift, no doubt,
mysteriously placed in your
xxxwaking hand

or set upon your forehead
moments before you open
xxx your eyes.


And make no mistake, he reminds
us, each day is a gift. The poem ends:


Through the calm eye of
xxxthe window
everything is in its place
but so precariously
this day might be
xxxresting somehow

on the one before it,
all the days of the past
xxx stacked high
like the impossible tower
of dishes
entertainers used to build
xxxon stage.

No wonder you find yourself
perched on the top of a tall ladder
hoping to add one more.
Just another Wednesday,

you whisper,
then holding your breath,
place this cup on yesterday's saucer
without the slightest clink.

Billy Collins was officially inaugurated as U.S. Poet Laureate at a luncheon at the Library of Congress on December 6. He gave a reading that evening before a large audience packed into the Library's Montpelier Room. During a reception that followed, Collins signed copies of his book of new and selected poems, Sailing Alone Around the Room Lehman College also honored him at a reception on campus on December 13 (both events had been postponed by the attacks on September 11).

Poetry to Take a 180 Turn in U.S. High Schools

Poet Laureate Collins has launched a new web site called Poetry 180, designed to encourage the appreciation and enjoyment of poetry in the nation's high schools. The site—www.loc.gov/poetry/180—is on the Library of Congress home page, and it will contain the texts of 180 poems by contemporary American poets that Collins has selected for each day of the school year. Also offered are suggestions for presenting each poem in a school setting, as well as guidance on how to read it aloud.

"The idea is simple—to have a poem read each day to the student bodies of American high schools across the country," Collins says. "Just hearing well-written poems they don't have to analyze might convince students that poetry can be understandable, painless, and even an eye-opening part of their everyday experience."

A message on the Web site from Collins "to the high school teachers of America" urges them to select someone to read the poem to the school each day, perhaps at the end of daily announcements over a public-address system or in their individual home rooms. "The hope is that poetry will become a part of the daily life of students in addition to being a subject that is part of the school curriculum," Collins adds.