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What I love about this poem by Billy Collins is the satirical tone he uses to read it and the mockery of the original. It is clever, witty, dry, and captures the essence of how poets can use imagery to the poem's failure: meaningless imagery simply for the sake of the image instead of the meaning.

Poem Number 1
Poem Number 1

Introduction to Poetry

Billy Collins

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.

from The Apple that Astonished Paris, 1996
University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, Ark.
//Permissions information//.
Copyright 1988 by Billy Collins.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced with permission.


        • What I LOVE about this poem is the natural language...it doesn't feel academic, but still uses memorable sensory details. I also love the message: teachers often ruin poems by forcing students to see a certain message, theme, motif, when instead, if we the students could sit with it, emulate it, or make meaning ourselves, the theme would come skipping out without beating it to a pulp to make meaning.