With plenty of humor, poet delights

When former Poet Laureate Billy Collins was asked by an audience member what book he would take with him to be stranded on a raft in the ocean, Collins paused and then said, “Nicole Kidman and whatever book she would like to bring.” He later added Ulysses to the list.

The USF Humanities Institute hosted an evening with Billy Collins, the 11th U.S. poet laureate, for a packed crowd of all ages at the Embassy Suites on Wednesday. Collins read from his works and spoke on the thought processes and personal anecdotes that went into them while his audience laughed, applauded and sent him off with a standing ovation.

Collins said that unlike other poets who write primarily for themselves, he is unashamedly interested in “courting” the reader instead. He presented selections from his work to the audience that included comical themes such as the bitter confessions of a pet dog that was put down by his masters. The dog comes back in spirit to say that he never liked his toys, the family car or his owners and that during life it took all of his self-control to refrain from assaulting them on various occasions.

There were also poems featuring or based solely upon jabs at prestigious figures such as Sylvia Plath, Aristotle, Virginia Woolf and Paul Valery.

Blake Singletary, a freshman majoring in biomedical science, anticipated the humor that would accompany Collins throughout the evening.

“I thought he would be a pretty funny and witty guy, and he proved me right,” he said.

Singletary said he knew about Collins due to his poet laureate status, which is also the reason he went to the event.

“He’s a poet laureate,” Singletary said. “You just don’t get to hear someone like that talk everyday.”

The position of poet laureate is appointed by the Library of Congress and, according to its Web site, is responsible for raising national consciousness to help form a greater appreciation for reading and writing of poetry.

Freshman physics major Lyndsey Scofield said she enjoyed the reading, which she had heard about from her friends, but admitted that she did not know much about Collins prior to the event.

“I thought he’d be interesting,” she said.

Brenna Dixon, a biomedical science freshman, attended the event for the experience because she once considered a career in writing. Dixon said she attended the reading because her poetry instructor, Alex Duensing, listed Collins as a former professor of his.

Collins, whose term ran from 2001-2003, has published eight books of poetry, is a professor of English at Lehman College, City University of New York, a writer in residence at Sarah Lawrence College and was awarded the Mark Twain Award for humor in poetry in October 2004.