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Just the Right Book Podcast

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Listen to Roxanne Coady, founder of RJ Julia Booksellers, interview the very best nonfiction authors. Come hear the stories behind the books you want to read!


CHECK OUT THE LATEST EPISODE FEATURING Billy Collins' Musical Tables



Musical Tables

Highlights from the Episode

Clea Newman Soderlund and editor David Rosenthal talk with Roxanne Coady about the process of finding and compiling a series of interviews conducted over a period of time and writings from Paul Newman to create the posthumous memoir of an ordinary man who led an extraordinary life. Listen in as we discover the celebrated actor, husband, and father, Paul Newman, who does not hold back in this intimate and candid memoir.

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Roxanne Coady: When you first became interested in writing, was there a fork in the road where you were trying to decide prose poetry?

Billy Collins: No, it was always poetry, and I'm not sure exactly. Well, I could say in a kind of high handed way that poetry is superior to prose because of its antiquity, for one thing, and it's the most exceptional thing you can do with language, I think. I mean, to go into that just slightly, we're talking about prose. We're talking about the novel, basically, aren't we? Or the prose fiction. Well, first of all, I wouldn't know how to write a story. And prose fiction requires an interest in other people. Now, poetry requires an interest only in yourself. And here's my metaphor image for it. The prose writer is looking in other people's windows. He or she is out on the lawn there and wants to know what they're doing, and not only that, what they're thinking, and how they're behaving in the bedroom, not just the kitchen. The poet is in that house looking out the window at the world. And the poet's perspective is basically his or her view of whatever is seen out there. So I think that's a huge difference. And I just wouldn't know how to construct a story or anything. And one of the things I was doesn't go up as a forest transition, but one of the things I was really attracted to by poetry is its brevity.

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Billy Collins: The novel, at least the traditional novel, is guided by social realism. And that simply means that what is going on in the novel, the scene that's happening in the novel is one you could see out in your back window. There's bus going by, someone's eating a sandwich and that kind of thing. And that kind of detail or fleshing out the scene of the novel accounts for mostly, I think, it's draw in addition to having a plot. But I don't think of my poems as stories. I think they're too short to be stories, even really short stories, because the novel of the short story takes up time to read the short story. Maybe 45 minutes in the novel, maybe a month, in my case. But there's no time in the poem to develop suspense. There is time to have surprise in poetry, but not so much suspense.

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Billy Collins: One of the attractions to the small poem I like to call them small instead of short sounds derogatory, in a way, is that it's an extension of poetry's rather famous or widely praised ability to condense large emotional and conceptual material into a small space, so that the specific density of a poem is higher than that of a piece of prose. And if you get down to one, two, three or four line poems, then it's a whole different animal because there's no room in it for landscape. There's no room for beginning, middle, and an end, or past, present, future. There's no room for a lot of the things we expect to get from poetry. There's just some kind of emotion in that poem.


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