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On the third line, Collins uses a simile and says, “like a color slide,” connoting that the reader must see through the color slide (the poem) in order to clearly see the picture; light goes through the color slide, so one must focus in on it to see the image.
This squinting is what the speaker wants the reader to do – he wants the reader to get inside the poem and see what it means.
A well-known voice on National Public Radio, his public readings, perhaps better described as performances, are invariably put on before packed audiences. limpid, gently startling, more serious than they seem, they describe all the worlds that are and were and some others besides.” Collins lives in Somers, New York, a few miles from Katonah, which is about an hour’s ride on the commuter train from Grand Central Station.
His work is identified largely by its humor, which he speaks of as being “a door into the serious”—a comment echoed by John Updike’s sentiment: “Billy Collins writes lovely poems . The Katonah station is unique in that it is set in the middle of town, so that one steps out of the train just a yard or so from the main street and the arts and crafts shops that line the far side.
In fact, his poems usually tend to be longer than most, densely packed and structured like a surrealist jazz performance where a recurring motif is the bane of the common man: the compulsive need to list or categorize.
In other words, the poems of Billy Collins are humorous, but not in the sense of Nash or Dr. Reading many of Collins’ free-flowing examinations of the most common elements of millennial-era existence can have the effect recalling some of the verse of Lewis Carroll.
After this, there is a shift in tone, now almost a taunting mood.
Collins relates the poem to a prisoner captured by the readers: “But all they [the readers] want to do is tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it.” That confession is the meaning of the poem and the speaker wants to show that the readers want to “beat” the meaning out of the poem, thus tying “the poem to a chair” and torturing a “confession out of it.” The word “torture” brings up the word, force, and Collins want the reader to go deep into the quote, but not go deep that what remains on the surface is forgotten.
Then again, the place that Collins holds in the contemporary world of American poetry may have less to do with his sense of humor than the lack of a sense of humor some of those poets who can rightfully be considered more significant writers have toward his commercial viability.
In 1993, publishing giant Random House signed Collins to a three-book deal said to be worth six figures.