On Billy Collins and Accessibility in Poetry

Billy Collins is so famous and beloved that it’s tempting to dismiss him. Because don’t Americans, even Americans who like poetry, always choose the easy over the difficult? And Collins is so easy, so entertaining, so companionable. When reading his poetry, you don’t even really have to try. It’s all right there in front of you, including the jokes.

And yet. Collins is delightful and even, in his latest book, cutting. We’ve chosen a new poem of his, called “Hippos on Holiday,” for our wedding ceremony, even though it doesn’t say a single thing about relationships or marriage. (It says something about living large.) And here’s his poem called “Divorce”:

Once, two spoons in bed,
now tined forks

across a granite table
and the knives they have hired.


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