It wasnt merely
a meeting between a Yank and a Brit, it wasnt just a dialogue
between two Poet Laureates, it was a conversation between Billy
Collins and Andrew Motion. On January 18th the two celebrated poets
from both sides of the Atlantic finally, and for the first time,
got to meet their vocational twin in the Mellon library of the American
School in London.
I was there to witness
this unprecedented event, and to say I was left gasping in quite
reverence would be an understatement. Mr Motion with his sensuously
eloquent British tongue and Mr Collins with his candid American
humour managed to engage the entire room of admiring students, but
most of all they engaged each other.
I was a bystander, merely
throwing in questions that would spark off captivating discussions
between the two poets. They talked about the irony in the fact that,
as Billy Collins put it, there is a common language that divides
us. They both came to a consensus that American poets tended
to be much more of the crack pot experimenters where
the British are more inclined to follow the path of their predecessors.
One of my fellow students
asked them what relationship do you think you have to the
realm of poetry, given that Langston Hughes was the
saxophonist of poetry, T.S. Eliot was the painter of poetry and
Robert Frost was the scientist of poetry. A faint smile, that
never left the face of Mr. Collins, quickly turned into a childish
grin as he blurted out that he was the small frame-shop of
poetry. Mr Motion after contemplating the question for a split
second longer seemed content that a previous characterization that
compared poets to cars was sufficient. Thus he said he was the Volvo
of poetry, his rationale being that theyre sturdy
and dont crash very often.
After having sat and
discussed various poetic ideals with the two fascinating men, I
was left rather sceptical as to whether or not it had been as infamous
and historic an event as I had initially expected. It was no Potsdam
or Versailles, where appointed officials had represented the interest
of their countries, it merely reminded me of scenes attributed to
conversations like those of Florians Café in Venice. From
the beginning to the end of our twenty minute discussion the room
had been an animated literary salon; I felt transformed into another
place and another time.
At the end of our little
parley the poets graciously posed for the flash bulbs and then signed
the masses of new poetry books in the library, until Mr Collins
mentioned that his hand hurt.
I guess the biggest
disappointment for me was knowing what they did all too well was
talk to each other and not to an audience. While Mr Collins remained
adamant that he would not be responsible for being the voice of
the national conscience in this troubled period of American
history, we are left with few people to turn to who can provide
us with literary solace.
Both came to the consensus
that after September 11th regardless of the copious amounts of letters
they received it would have been too presumptuous to
have even made an attempt to try capturing the national mood on
Well one must then ask
why on earth do we have a poet laureate if they are unwilling to
be representative of their country. Walt Whitman was a poet who
had captured the mood of pre-Civil War America with his profound
Leaves of Grass, I celebrate myself, and sing myself; for
every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
Neither poet however,
was willing to rise to the occasion at a time when they are needed
is an 18 years old student who moved from New York to London when
I was 2 years old and passed through the British schooling system
up until his junior year when I moved to the American School in
London. On January 18th Chris, "an avid poet who adores studying
literature," had the unique opportunity of talking with the
British and American Poet Laureates, Andrew Motion and Billy Collins.