Barack Obama, Billy Collins, Rita Dove and poetry

I love Barack Obama and Billy Collins. They are both here in this video showing the White House Evening of Poetry. Collins comes on last – around the 35th minute of this video.

Rita Dove is the first to read a poem after Obama gets out of the way. You can read here what he said.

Here’s one of the poems read by Rita Dove – Maple Valley Branch Library, 1967 – which she calls a “love poem to libraries”. Billy Collins read Forgetfulness followed by The Lanyard. Click on the links to read the poems.

I can’t resist quoting a bit of what Obama said, because it’s so true. He said:

The power of poetry is that everybody experiences it differently.  There are no rules for what makes a great poem.  Understanding it isn’t just about metaphor or meter.  Instead, a great poem is one that resonates with us, that challenges us and that teaches us something about ourselves and the world that we live in.  As Rita Dove says, “If [poetry] doesn’t affect you on some level that cannot be explained in words, then the poem hasn’t done its job.”  Also known as, it don’t mean a thing if — (laughter) — it ain’t got that swing.  That’s a little ad-lib there. (Laughter.)

For thousands of years, people have been drawn to poetry in a very personal way -– including me.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I actually submitted a couple of poems to my college literary magazine, and you will be pleased to know that I will not be reading them tonight.  (Laughter.)

Here’s a video showing Rita Dove reading Maple Valley Branch Library, 1967, at another event.

And here’s Billy Collins reading The Lanyard on another occasion.

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