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Billy Collins poem The Names commemorates 9-11

By Dave Read.

The boon and bane of my modern life is the search engine, combined with the fact that writing is a thing done with a keyboard wired to a device that can access the Internet. It is the boon and bane age because it is good and bad – a ready mixture of the salubrious and the deleterious. Instead of taxing your memory – of having a good think, or of putting some effort into research (if not reflection), nowadays when your train of thought pauses at a ? mark, you hie to Google and before you know it you know more than you know what to do with on practically any subject.

So it was this morning when I was beginning to work out an idea for a poem that had occurred to me while listening to a radio program driving home after visiting friends last night. It was “The Hudson River Sampler,” and a string of songs called to mind a couple favorite musicians I’d first heard in the 60s. My idea was to celebrate them, by way of memorializing them in a poem, the way I’d imagined the Poet Laueate would. So, in order to clarify my understanding of what a poet laureate’s duties were when they included the composing of poems for certain occassions, I Googled something like “poet laureate memorial poem duties.”

Near the top of the results was a link to a poem that Billy Collins wrote while he was Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. It is called The Names, and I cannot imagine a more beautiful public commemorization of 9-11.

That is the boon – one stunning poem, (and more about Billy Collins) plus all I need to know about “poet laureate.” The bane is that my poem about Dave Van Ronk and Mississippi John Hurt yet awaits its first line.