Like President Obama, Billy Collins has the distinction of being a two-termer. Happily for Mr. Collins, his job as U.S. poet laureate did not require making decisions such as whether to bomb Syria, or getting along with Congress. No, Billy Collins had only to concern himself with the matter of poetry.
And the man is on a mission to bring verse to the people. His recent stint of filling in for Garrison Keillor on "Writer's Almanac" on public radio may well have brought him more listeners than ever. But in Vermont, it is Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, a book Collins edited, that is getting all the attention.
That's because it is the 2013 selection for Vermont Reads, a statewide literary program available to nonprofit communities and organizations courtesy of the Vermont Humanities Council. In celebration of the program's 10th anniversary, the council decided to focus on poetry.
What's more, it's bringing Billy Collins himself to Vermont this fall.
"We had high hopes that we'd be able to entice him to come," says VHC's director of communications, Sylvia Plumb. I don't know what enticement they used, but it worked. Collins will speak on October 2 at the University of Vermont. Better yet, it's free!
About Poetry 180, Plumb explains that Collins' aim was to "bring poetry back into people's lives, to make it less daunting." Accordingly, he chose poems that can be grasped by middle schoolers through adults. The programming in Vermont Reads includes readings from the book, writing original poems and other events. And the "180"? "That's the average number of days in a school year," Plumb says.
In separate but related news, Randolph is one community that got a Vermont Reads grant, and, as part of it, local writer Marjorie Ryerson created "an entire Year of Poetry."
"I will be teaching free classes in poetry to adults (in our public library) from October until April," she writes, "and will give each participant in those classes one of Billy Collins' books."
Ryerson, author of the book Water Music and a member of the Randolph Selectboard, and Peggy Whiteneck are coordinating programming, including a monthlong event in April called PoemTown — modeled after Montpelier's popular PoemCity.
April, as you surely know, is National Poetry Month. Accordingly, says Ryerson, the organizers are reaching out to poets all over the state to submit works that will be publically displayed. Submission period: December 1, 2013, through February 1, 2014.
Mail (not email) submissions can be sent to Marjorie Ryerson, P.O. Box 44, Randolph, VT 05060 or Peggy Whiteneck, P.O. Box 303, East Randolph, VT 05041.
Photo of Billy Collins courtesy of Vermont Humanities Council.