Billy Collins on the Indifference of Readers

“When I start a poem, I assume the indifference of readers,” [Collins] says. “That there might even be a touch of hostility. There is a line from a Patrick Kavanagh poem that really resonates. It goes: ‘Tomorrow’s Wednesday. Who cares?’ Well, the reader can’t be expected to be interested in your life, the life of a stranger. The job of the poet is to seduce the reader, to make sure they are interested, to make something happen for them that is unexpected.”

It is about achieving a balance between “clarity and mystery”, he says. “It’s important to know which card to turn over and which to lay face-down. But the beginning of a poem should always be very clear, to get a reader on board, and only then can you be confident that when you move into less obvious areas of metaphor or fantasy that they will go with you. It is like an eye chart, with its big E at the top, and the letters getting less legible as it moves along. A poem should be like that.”

— Billy Collins, quoted in Irish Times, August 11, 2014.