“… I recognize that some poems are As, and some are Bs. If they get a grade less, they don’t end up in any books. Sometimes it’s hard. Not to sentimentalize, but choosing from four books, you’re leaving a lot of poems behind. It’s like you’re on Noah’s Ark, and they’re left swimming around. It’s a nostalgic feeling, leaving something behind.”
One thing the poems have in common is that when Collins starts writing them, he has no idea where they’ll end up.
“You have to sustain the benefits of not knowing as long as possible; you don’t want to know too much,” he says. “That’s one of the things wrong with political poetry. … I know how I feel politically. I have opinions like any citizen. But I already know what I think; I would know where I was going. That’s why I’ll never write political poetry. As someone put it: The pen, the writing implement, is not a recording device; it’s an instrument of discovery.”
Collins, who thinks poetry should be taught “chronologically backwards, starting with the contemporary poets and leading students back to the past,” has advice for readers wary of picking up a book of verse. He suggests novices start with the anthology Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, which he edited.
“I think of the anthologies as gateways to more reading. If you came across a poem by Richard Wilbur and liked it, you can look online and read more or buy one of his books. … There are great, fresh voices in literary magazines, too. Of course I’m ambivalent toward them. They’re so good. I see them as replacements who will push me off the edge of the cliff and take off, all this fresh new talent.”