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 water-ski

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.

Bibliographical info

Billy Collins, “Introduction to Poetry” from The Apple That Astonished Paris. Copyright © 1988, 1996 by Billy Collins. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of the University of Arkansas Press,

Source: Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems, 1st ed. (Random House, 2001).

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