National Poetry Month Day 3: Billy Collins

For day three of National Poetry Month, I picked a poem by former Poet Laureate Billy Collins. This is a poem that I found recently while searching for poetry to use in the unit on “The Future” that I’m designing for an 11th grade English class. This poem is appropriately called “The Future.” It was published here in The New Yorker. I’d also like to share Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry,” featured in Poetry 180. Poetry 180 is designed for sharing a poem a day in school classrooms. While I can’t say that my class is quite at a poem a day for the year, I hope to do a poem a day for the month, at least.

The Future

When I finally arrive there—
and it will take many days and nights—
I would like to believe others will be waiting
and might even want to know how it was.

So I will reminisce about a particular sky
or a woman in a white bathrobe
or the time I visited a narrow strait
where a famous naval battle had taken place.

Then I will spread out on a table
a large map of my world
and explain to the people of the future
in their pale garments what it was like—

how mountains rose between the valleys
and this was called geography,
how boats loaded with cargo plied the rivers
and this was known as commerce,

how the people from this pink area
crossed over into this light-green area
and set fires and killed whoever they found
and this was called history—

and they will listen, mild-eyed and silent,
as more of them arrive to join the circle
like ripples moving toward,
not away from, a stone tossed into a pond.

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

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