I've heard a lot about Billy Collins over the years, but I never had a chance to read much of his work until just this past week--bits and pieces here and there, but never a lot. He doesn't always amaze, but when he does, it's with this quiet grace of linework and vocabulary that almost knocks me down. I'm sure that if you know Collins at all, you know the poem I'm about to post, but it's one I've been thinking about a lot since I read it. I think I'm going to start using it as a way to talk about interpretation in a more general sense in some of the lit courses I teach. [I hope he (nor anyone involved in the copyright) will mind me posting]
"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.
*= from The Apple That Astonished Paris (which is a really awesome reference to Greek mythology in my not so humble opinion)