waiting for billy collins


    I don’t know what made me think of this poem tonight. Perhaps I’m just missing my friend. I wrote it several years ago after he and I went to a Billy Collins reading. For whatever reason, tonight seems like a good night to let it see daylight again.

    Waiting for Billy Collins
    for Jack

    We are in the stand-by line
    for a sold out poetry reading;
    (now you know we live in Boston. . .)
    Ten or twelve of us chain
    Down the side of the building
    Like beads waiting to be strung into
    A necklace of hope.

    Almost everyone has a paperback in hand —
    But not of the poet we have come to see;
    (that would be uncool. . .)
    The books are credentials for the conversation.
    We flash them like driver’s licenses in a bar,
    Giving ourselves permission to become
    Intoxicated on metaphor.

    We toss around the names of poets,
    Both famous and unfamiliar.
    (I know someone you don’t know. . .)
    We do agree we don’t understand
    Wallace Stevens but he’s good, yes, very good;
    And, of course, we must make mention of
    The red wheelbarrow.

    The guy behind us likes
    To dress up like Walt Whitman,
    (coming soon to a school near you. . .)
    And he seems to think that every
    Poem we discuss is about him;
    No one else in our quixotic queue appears
    To have come to that conclusion.

    I am standing with Jack
    Between Walt and a guy we’d rather talk to;
    (I brought a friend instead of a book. . .)
    We are each other’s ticket into the evening.
    Yes, we came to hear the poet,
    But if we don’t get in the theater
    We have lines of our own to deliver

    At a nearby pub. The important thing
    Is to get to spend time together.
    (surely someone won’t show up. . .)
    But I keep hoping we two can enter the ark
    And set sail on the poet’s words,
    Hearing each syllable of hope and humor
    As metaphor of our friendship.



    1. Man, do I love Billy Collins. Undressing Emily Dickinson – my favorite. Well, that’s not true. My favorite is whichever one of my favorites of his I happen to be reading.

      I also love the one about teaching poetry to his students. They want to tie the poem down and disect it. He wants them to skate on the surface of it and wave to him on the shore.


      could eat his words.

    2. That’s a nice poem. I love Billy Collins, too. It is strange to go to a poetry reading and hope you will get in. I was like that when he came to my town (NOT Boston; I got in). But I have to correct the previous poster: the title of the poem is “Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes.” I think it was no accident that Billy titled it that way. “Undressing Emily Dickinson” could be a metaphor for analyzing her poetry. He makes his intent clear in the title. (Such a great poem!) (I think I’ll go read it now.)

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