SOL 17 & Poetry Friday: Happy Birthday, Billy Collins!

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Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the U.S., is one of our most beloved poets. In honor of his birthday later this month, many Poetry Friday regulars are sharing their favorite Billy Collins poem.

I’ve been lucky enough to hear Mr. Collins read his poetry twice. Like his poetry, he is humble and filled with good humor. At both readings, he shared “The Lanyard.” The first time I heard him read this poem, I actually had my car keys on a lanyard my son had made at camp. Michael’s lanyard is long gone, but because of Billy Collins’s poem, I’ll never forget it.

Billy Collins at the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, August 2013
Billy Collins at the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, August 2013

“The Lanyard”

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly–
a past where I sat a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Edited to add: Because Heidi shared the same poem, I’m adding another poem. Since “The Lanyard” stirs up many memories, I thought “Forgetfulness” would be a fitting contrast. Enjoy!

by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never
even heard of.

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses good-bye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraquay.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Please be sure to visit Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe for more Billy Collins and the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Thank you also to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: “While Eating a Pear”


My husband loves Harry & David’s Royal Riviera pears and I give him a box every year for Christmas. I thought of this poem when I bought them yesterday.

“While Eating a Pear”
by Billy Collins

After we have finished here
the world will continue its quiet turning
and the years will still transpire,
but now without their numbers,
and the days and months will pass
without the names of Norse and Roman gods.

Time will go by the way it did
before history, pure and unnoticed,
a mystery that arose between the sun and moon
before there was a word for dawn
or noon or midnight,

Read the rest of the poem here.

By Hovey, C. M. (Charles Mason), 1810-1887 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Hovey, C. M. (Charles Mason), 1810-1887 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
This poem is also included in a lovely little collection of Collins’s “train-inspired poems,” Poetry For Every Season: Holiday Train Show Poetry Walk, which is part of this year’s Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden.

Please be sure to visit Diane at Random Noodling for the Poetry Friday Roundup.