In “Introduction to Poetry”, the writer, Billy Collins sends a message that readers should be patient and open minded when reading poems in order to see the meaning, yet not over-analyze. The dramatic situation is Billy Collins is speaking (I think) to all readers about the way one should read poetry. The poem teaches the reader how to read and dive into a poem, using many literary devices and tone to do so. Collins’s use of literary devices really helped the poem take the shape it took in my mind. 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. He says, “I say drop a mouse into a poem and watch him probe his way out, or walk inside the poem’s room and feel the walls for a light switch.” When the mouse looks for a light switch, one can imagine that it is dark inside the “poem’s room” and that there is a sense of being lost, like in a labyrinth. On the next two lines, the poem is a lake, and Collins wants the reader to have fun and feel free: “I want them to waterski across the surface of the poem waving at the author’s name on the shore.” This use of imagery really paints a picture in my mind of someone diving into a poem (the lake) and looking at the author’s name on the shore. 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 so deep that what remains on the surface is forgotten. He expresses that poems should not have their meaning forcefully tugged from them, but freely and calmly find it, and still be attached to the surface. Imagine a bungee cord on the surface of the water and someone (with the rope stretched) diving from high above, and reach the bottom of the water, look around and collect the meaning, and jump right back to the surface. This is, in my opinion, an image version of what Collins wants the reader to take away from this poem.
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
Okay, class. Take your seats please.
Right from the get-go this poem has a scholastic feel. We start with a title that is basically straight out of a course catalog. Add to that the fact that the speaker of the poem is a teacher (albeit an unusual one), and we're all set for school.
In the poem, the speaker (a teacher) describes how he tries to get "them" (the students) to approach a poem. But try as he might, the teacher can't get the students to appreciate the poem (or poetry) at all—any of this sound familiar?
The teacher wants the students to really listen to the sounds in the poem, to look at it, to truly experience it for what it is. And that's a piece of art. But the students just want to figure out what the darn thing is about, and they are willing to use any means necessary to get at the truth (warning: things take a violent turn in stanza six).
There is a lesson being taught in this poem, but it is not presented to us in a traditional, academic way. On the bright side, the poem is, as poems go, pretty straightforward.