While Billy Collins was United States Poet Laureate, he launched a series of efforts to bring poetry into the lives of ordinary people, including those who normally dislike or ignore poetry altogether. Collins’ objective in Poetry 180 is “to assemble a generous selection of short, contemporary poems which any listener could basically ‘get’ on first hearing—poems whose injection of pleasure is immediate” [p. xvi]. Intended specifically for high school teachers to read aloud to their classes, Poetry 180 is too delightful a collection to be limited to that setting.
The lovely thing about reading poems aloud with friends, during a shared meal or over cups of coffee or glasses of wine, is that poetry, an ancient artform, helps expand our hearts, our loves, our ability to see and hear and understand with clarity. It does so not by telling us we need help but by granting a portal into a wider experience of life and then inviting us to enter. This simple act of sharing beauty and hospitality is radically countercultural and may be one of the most courageous acts we dare commit.
Book recommended: Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry edited by Billy Collins (New York, NY: Random House; 2003) 272 pages + contributors + indices.