Kinsella wonders: why can’t Billy Collins be president?

Below Kevin Kinsella, proprietor of Languor Management, reports on Billy Collins’ Monday night reading in New York City.

Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of
the heart.

— Bill Collins, “The Names”


Just hours before our real president gave his brief yet clumsy address to the nation on the fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, Collins, the former poet laureate, read the elegant poem Congress bade him compose for the special joint session held in New York City to mark the very first anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Thankfully, however, the event wasn’t so much a commemoration of that terrible day as the launch of a literary series hosted by Bottle Rocket, a new and earnest wine store located on West 19th Street — and, unlike Bush, the closest the effortless wit and charmer Collins came to political discourse on Monday night was a caricature of Ted Kennedy either falling asleep or set adrift in “poetic transport” upon first hearing “The Names,” on its debut four years ago. Collins seemed a bit embarrassed, himself, that he had even read the poem at all and moved on to several less somber and decidedly more Collinsesque humorous ones. Essentially, the night was about wine and poetry, with a bit more emphasis on the wine — Collins couldn’t have read more than a dozen poems — if that — and several of those were about wine themselves.

According to the proprietors of Bottle Rocket, they will have future readings in their well-lit store throughout the year. None of them have yet been announced.

But let’s hope they continue to schedule them right before the president makes speeches. I needed three full (and free) glasses of wine in me to get through Bush’s defensive seventeen minutes of nonsense that again tried to weave a straight line from the 9/11 attacks to our invation of Iraq. As anyone who’s ever written an English paper knows, this should have been marked with red pen in the margins as an “AWKWARD TRANSITION.” I like to think that President Collins — a professor of English for over thirty years — would have done so had his own speech writers prepared such a draft for an oration meant to commemorate those who died on September 11, 2001.

Image of Collins taken from NPR.


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