Billy Collins

by | Apr 12, 2018

Photograph of Billy Collins

Billy Collins, Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003

A lot of things in life take courage. Sometimes reading poetry is one of them.

I once read a poem to conclude a presentation on international education and its power to get us past cultural barriers by underscoring our shared humanity. There were hundreds of people in the room from colleges and universities everywhere. The poem was met with expressions of perplexity. Afterwards, one man came up and said, “It’s very brave to end a talk at a professional conference with a poem like that.” 

Twenty years later at the Winds’ wineshop in Yellow Springs, a clerk told me that corked wine had the smell of wet dog. “Oh,” I said, “that reminds me of a poem by Billy Collins,” which I then googled on the spot and read to everyone in the store. It was met with similar expressions of confusion and mild embarrassment. Oh well, I thought, and took my bottle of wine and left.

Perhaps, I’ll do better with you. As I’ve said, the piece is by Billy Collins, a former US poet laureate, and coincidentally begins with a quotation from Mary Oliver, who I wrote about last month. 

To A Stranger Born In Some Distant Country Hundreds Of Years From Now
– Billy Collins

I write poems for a stranger who will be born in some distant country hundreds of years from now. – Mary Oliver

Nobody here likes a wet dog.
No one wants anything to do with a dog
that is wet from being out in the rain
or retrieving a stick from a lake.
Look how she wanders around the crowded pub tonight
going from one person to another
hoping for a pat on the head, a rub behind the ears,
something that could be given with one hand
without even wrinkling the conversation.

But everyone pushes her away,
some with a knee, others with the sole of a boot.
Even the children, who don’t realize she is wet
until they go to pet her,
push her away
then wipe their hands on their clothes.
And whenever she heads toward me,
I show her my palm, and she turns aside.

O stranger of the future!
O inconceivable being!
whatever the shape of your house,
no matter how strange and colorless the clothes you
may wear,
I bet nobody there likes a wet dog either.
I bet everybody in your pub
even the children, pushes her away.

*********

So, have courage, read poetry and remember wet dogs are still lovable. 

About Lines of Thinking

Lines of Thinking is a monthly feature from College President Tom Manley. Each installment features a poem selected for its powers to transport us to some higher, lower or common ground, and, possibly in the process, provide fresh perspective and insight on the ground we occupy daily.

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