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Teachers and students take on Collins

The first time Stefani Kuo ’13 encountered Billy Collins was in a four-line poem in his poetry collection Ballistics. Titled “Divorce,” the poem described two spoons that turn into hostile forks, hiring knives to settle the papers.

“The entire poem is like a pictograph,” Kuo said. “It’s completely made up of imagery, and the visuals are so basic and common. People assume poetry is obscure and deep and profound. The moment you read something that simple and almost childlike in its direct description, you’re surprised by how poetic that is.”
Kuo read the book from cover to cover one Wednesday afternoon.

“After the first poem, I started laughing aloud to myself and kept reading,” she said. “It just got funnier and funnier. His writing is direct, relatable and lightheartedly funny without being dense, morbid or undecipherable.”
Kuo, along with the rest of the student body, faculty and staff, received a copy of Collins’ Sailing Alone Around the Room at the beginning of the school year. In preparation for the second Academy Event featuring a U.S. poet laureate, English teachers are required to spend at least four days looking at poems from the book. Teachers have taken different approaches to the assignment.

English teacher Mark Scandling holds “Poetry Fridays,” during which students read poems aloud and “enjoy Collins’ wit and wisdom,” he said.

Mr. Schloat is showing videos of Collins reading his work and having his students read poems in class.
English teacher Heather Liske’s class is on “a steady diet of Billy Collins,” she said.

“I am definitely excited about his visit, because it is a much more powerful experience to hear him in person, when the words live in a way they can’t when you are just reading his poems alone in your room,” Ms. Liske said.
Like the faculty, students said they are eagerly awaiting Collins’ arrival.

“I have enjoyed the poems so far and cannot wait to hear him speak in person,” Nina Sola ’13 said.

Similarly, Izzy Tang ’14 said, “After all the hype leading up to the event, I am excited to hear what he has to say.”
The style of the Academy Event will be very similar to W.S. Merwin’s visit last year, with both guests as Poet Laureate and their reading followed by a book signing at Ephraim Williams. But English Department Chair Mark Ott said Collins is a different kind of poet than Merwin.

“Merwin is a poet of mystery,” he said. “Billy Collins is mysterious, too, but he is also more a poet of pleasure. His work is both serious and funny, thoughtful and whimsical.”

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