“The Trouble with Poetry”

April is National Poetry Month which means a month-long celebration of poetry including virtual readings and events, podcasts, contests, and more! What better way to kick off the month than with a poem by beloved poet Billy Collins. Billy Collins, former US Poet Laureate, has been called “The most popular poet in America” by the New York Times. His poems are welcoming and witty as you will see with today’s selection. Click here to hear Billy Collins read “The Trouble with Poetry.”

The Trouble with Poetry

The trouble with poetry, I realized
as I walked along a beach one night —
cold Florida sand under my bare feet,
a show of stars in the sky — 

the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank,
more baby rabbits
hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass. 

And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world, 

and there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks. 

Poetry fills me with joy
and I rise like a feather in the wind.
Poetry fills me with sorrow
and I sink like a chain flung from a bridge. 

But mostly poetry fills me
with the urge to write poetry,
to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame
to appear at the tip of my pencil. 

And along with that, the longing to steal,
to break into the poems of others
with a flashlight and a ski mask. 

And what an unmerry band of thieves we are,
cut-purses, common shoplifters,
I thought to myself
as a cold wave swirled around my feet 
and the lighthouse moved its megaphone over the sea,
which is an image I stole directly
from Lawrence Ferlinghetti —
to be perfectly honest for a moment — 

the bicycling poet of San Francisco
whose little amusement park of a book
I carried in a side pocket of my uniform
up and down the treacherous halls of high school. 

— Billy Collins 

Do you have a favorite poet or poem? What was the first poem you connected with? The first poem I connected with was Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese.” She had me with the first line: “You do not have to be good.Have you memorized any poems? That’s something to consider while you’re at home during poetry month – you’ll always have the poem with you, and it’s good for the brain!


“The Trouble with Poetry” by Billy Collins, from The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems, 2005. Copyrighted material used for educational or therapeutic purposes.

Photo: The Trouble with Poetry by Prezi


  1. One of my favorite poems is by William Carlos Williams, called the Red Wheelbarrow: “so much depends/upon/a red wheel/barrow/glazed with rain/water/beside the white/chickens.” I listed this as my quote in my senior high school yearbook. Still love it today.

    I also remember in high school we had to memorize and recite a sonnet. I chose Shakespeare’s sonnet 30. I remember the first few lines, and the couplet at the end: “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought/I summon up remembrance of things past/I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought/and with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste/……” and the couplet: “But if the while I think on thee, dear friend/all losses are restored and sorrows end.”

    I’ll have to look up the whole thing now. I hope the few lines I remember will stick with me a while longer!


    1. Looks like you’ve remembered 6 lines — just need to brush the cobwebs off the remaining 8! Seriously, that’s impressive and inspiring! I had started to memorize “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunmar before the virus started. Now the poem, the title especially, takes on new meaning. Thanks for sharing!


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