Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

The Accessible Billy Collins

When I first told my husband that I was going to post some of my favorite poems each Saturday in April in a celebration of National Poetry Month, he said that he was impressed that not only did I have a favorite poem, I had enough favorites to fill a month. 🙂

Today, I want to share some of my favorites by Billy Collins. He writes very accessible poetry about everyday lives. He was the U.S. Poet Laureate in 2002. If you are not familiar with his work, I urge you to pick up one or two of his books. This first one is from The Apple that Astonished Paris (1988).

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.


I want to share one more. This one is very fitting due to my addiction to the subject matter. It paints the magic the I find in every story I read.


From the heart of this dark, evacuated campus
I can hear the library humming in the night,
an immense choir of authors muttering inside their books
along the unlit, alphabetical shelves,
Giovanni Pontano next to Pope, Dumas next to his son,
each one stitched into his own private coat,
together forming a low, gigantic chord of language.

I picture a figure in the act of reading,
shoes on a desk, head tilted into the wind of a book,
a man in two worlds, holding the rope of his tie
as the suicide of lovers saturates a page,
or lighting a cigarette in the middle of a theorem.
He moves from paragraph to paragraph
as if touring a house of endless, panelled rooms.

I hear the voice of my mother reading to me
from a chair facing the bed, books about horses and dogs,
and inside her voice lie other distant sounds,
the horrors of a stable ablaze in the night,
a bark that is moving toward the brink of speech.

I watch myself building bookshelves in college,
walls within walls, as rain soaks New England,
or standing in a bookstore in a trench coat.

I see all of us reading ourselves away from ourselves,
straining in circles of light to find more light
until the line of words becomes a trail of crumbs
that we follow across a page of fresh snow;

when evening is shadowing the forest,
small brown birds flutter down to consume them
and we have to listen hard to hear the voices
of the boy and his sister receding into the perilous woods.


  1. Wow, I LOVED both of these, absolutely stunning – thanks for introducing me to this wonderful poet. When I read great poetry, though my dream is to be able to write it myself, I find that there is great joy in simply witnessing the truth that it can be done and celebrating the one(s) that can do it. So thank you to you for sharing and to Billy for writing. Perhaps these poems are some of the breadcrumbs that will lead me to writing my own greats, as long as I follow them quickly enough before the birds come and eat them…:-) H xxx

    • So glad that you enjoyed these. I had a difficult time narrowing down the two I wanted to share. I highly recommend all of his collections. 🙂 happy reading, and happier writing!

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