The Poetics of Laughter – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

The Poetics of Laughter

Former Poet Laureate Delivers President's Forum Lecture

“I don't trust anyone who has gone to college where there isn't snow,” joked former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins before his President's Forum lecture on Tuesday, Feb. 12.

Citing the falling snow around Albright Auditorium, President Mark D. Gearan welcomed Collins by saying, “I think this poet laureate is going to fit in well here; we're happy to work the weather to accommodate his wishes.”

Reading about everything from shoveling snow with Buddha to wet dogs, Collins kept his audience captivated and laughing. In his poem “Tension,” Collins played off of the faux pas in fiction writing of using “the word 'suddenly' to create tension.” Collins read: “…we found ourselves/standing suddenly in the kitchen/where you suddenly opened a can of cat food/and I just as suddenly watched you doing that.” Using playfulness and careful poetics, Collins read from his poetic repertoire, spanning the past three decades and offered wry commentary.

Earlier in the day, he held a poetry workshop for HWS students, faculty and staff in Stern Hall. “The main obstacle for a poet is to write something that will interest a complete stranger,” Collins said to his audience. “So while I'm writing, I'm constantly reading the lines, asking myself how a complete stranger would read the poem.” The poet went on to give insights into how he ends poems, how a poet can embrace a variety of temperaments and how Collins “tells his subject slant” in his words.

Later in the evening after his President's Forum lecture, Collins was able to speak with his readers and sign books in Albright Auditorium.

“Billy Collins was hilarious. I wasn't the biggest fan of poetry until tonight. The simplicity of his poetry made for such wonderful humor,” said Miles Rutter '09, of Bristol, Mass. “This was my first time attending a President's Forum event. I thought it was interesting, considering how politically charged the nation is right now, for the Colleges to invite someone with such a charming innocence—it was very refreshing.”

Collins has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Oscar Blumenthal and Bess Hokin prizes from Poetry magazine. He was United States Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003 and the New York State Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006.

To enjoy Collins' President's Forum lecture, click here to listen to the recording from WEOS. (MP3 Format)