Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Billy Collins, Honorary Tennessean?

Former Poet Laureate Billy Collins will give a reading in Clarksville tomorrow night, and it’s his fourth visit to the state in the past fifteen months

March 15, 2012 Billy Collins came to Tennessee in November 2010 to accept the Nashville Public Library Literary Award and apparently became entranced with Tennessee: since then, he’s returned to the state two more times—for a reading at the University of the South in Sewanee, and a residency at Vanderbilt University in Nashville—and he’ll be appearing in Middle Tennessee again this week when he reads on March 16 on the campus of Austin Peay State University in Clarksville.

Collins is known for being an “accessible” poet (though he prefers the word “hospitable”), by which is generally meant that audiences leave his readings feeling entertained and inspired, rather than depressed and confused. He is also a famous poet: he makes frequent appearances on National Public Radio shows like A Prairie Home Companion and Fresh Air, and it is not unusual for his readings to pack halls that seat two thousand people.

During his two-year stint as poet laureate, Collins worked tirelessly to bring home the point that poetry is not an effete art that exists as an endangered species in the protected cage of university English departments. As he told Chapter 16 in an interview, “poetry has always had not just a consoling aspect to it but a steadying influence on people. I think the reason poetry can be consoling is that it reminds us that we’re not alone, that whatever emotion we’re experiencing is really nothing new. It might feel overwhelming to us, but [then we read] a poem written in 1767, and this person seems to be going through a very similar crisis. So by bringing us into this kind of community of historical suffering, poetry reminds us that we’re not alone.”

Collins’s reading, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Music/Mass Communication Building on the APSU campus. Click here for details.

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