The Animation of Billy Collins’ Poetry: Everyday Moments in Motion

The first time I saw Bil­ly Collins speak, he appeared at my col­lege con­vo­ca­tion, toward the end of his years as Unit­ed States Poet Lau­re­ate. Now, the sec­ond time I’ve seen Bil­ly Collins speak, he appears giv­ing this TEDTalk, “Every­day Moments, Caught in Time,” in which he makes fun of his own ten­den­cy to men­tion his years as Unit­ed States Poet Lau­re­ate. But he most­ly uses his fif­teen min­utes onstage in Long Beach in front of TED’s swoop­ing cam­eras to talk about how the Sun­dance Chan­nel ani­mat­ed five of his poems. A boost­er of poet­ry “off the shelf” and into pub­lic places — sub­ways, bill­boards, cere­al box­es — he fig­ured that even such an “unnat­ur­al and unnec­es­sary” merg­er could fur­ther the cause of elud­ing humanity’s “anti-poet­ry deflec­tor shields that were installed in high school.”

Collins also notes that the idea for the project stirred the embers of his “car­toon junkie” child­hood, when Bugs Bun­ny was his muse. Styl­is­ti­cal­ly, how­ev­er, the pro­duc­ers at the Sun­dance Chan­nel kept quite far indeed from the Mer­rie Melodies. These ani­mat­ed poems opt instead for an aes­thet­ic that takes pieces of visu­al real­i­ty and repur­pos­es them in ways we don’t expect: look at the real arm slith­er­ing across the pages in the first poem, the tan­gi­ble-look­ing dolls and doll envi­ron­ments of the sec­ond poem, or the drift­ing pho­to­graph­ic cutouts of the third. Not to get too grand about it, but isn’t this what poet­ry itself is sup­posed to do? Don’t the words them­selves also cut out frag­ments of actu­al exis­tence and posi­tion them, recon­tex­tu­al­ize them, and move them around in ways that sur­prise us? The sub­stance of these shorts — foun­tain pens, fig­urines, car keys, paper boats, match­sticks, mice — may seem like the last word in mun­dan­i­ty, but per­ceived through the dif­fer­ent­ly “real” lens­es of Collins’ poet­ry and this unusu­al ani­ma­tion, they inspire curios­i­ty again.

Relat­ed con­tent:

3 Year Old Recites Poem, “Litany” By Bil­ly Collins

Bill Mur­ray Reads Poet­ry At Con­struc­tion Site

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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