Arts and Entertainment

Poet laureate on the loose

Poet Billy Collins will visit Bainbridge Island for three appearances over the weekend. - Photo courtesy of Steven Kovich
Poet Billy Collins will visit Bainbridge Island for three appearances over the weekend.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Steven Kovich

They say you can jinx a poem if you talk about it before it is done.

Famed poet Billy Collins knows this all too well. The adage, however, may not be true for other artistic endeavors.

Collins, a former Poet Laureate of the United States, will visit Bainbridge for three appearances over the weekend in support of the island’s latest effort currently under construction — the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.

“It’s a Billy Collins weekend,” Collins joked.

“I’ve had a bunch of egotistical trips to Bainbridge and had the egotistical spotlight before, but this is about the museum,” Collins added. “It’s really much more about the museum than about me.”

The museum isn’t finished yet. Hammers clank and machinery steadily hums on the corner of Winslow Way and Highway 305, working toward the expected opening in just under a year, during the summer of 2013.

While Collins might have intended something else entirely in his poem “Madmen,” to say that “the screwdriver is their brush,” when it comes to the art museum, would be quite accurate.

“Its focus is on local and indigenous art,” Collins said. “The concept behind the museum is, instead of importing art from other museums or Europe, as other museums do, this museum is trying to cast a smaller circle; to draw on local or regional art and to give that a voice.”

The museum will do just that, and house the regional voice of art surrounding Bainbridge Island.

Collins’ appearances will touch upon his own work as a poet, and more.

First he will discuss with local educators his project as poet laureate, “Poetry 180,” at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19 at the Museum of Art’s auditorium — the one portion of the museum that is finished. The Poetry 180 project aimed to put poetry in high schools across the nation, in a non-classroom environment.

“My project was to try to get a poem read every day on the public address system in high schools,” Collins said. “I didn’t want the teachers to discuss the poems. The whole idea was to hear the poems. Really just to demonstrate that poetry can be a part of your everyday life.”

The project resulted in two published anthologies of the poems used in the program.

“I wanted them to be clear poems that you could get on the first hearing,” Collins said. “Very contemporary poems that sounded fresh.”

The other two nights Collins is in town, he will read his poetry and sign his books.

In addition to talking poetry, Collins will also be interviewed

by KUOW reporter Marci Sillman at an event at Islandwood at

6:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20.

His final appearance will be from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21, in the Bainbridge High School gym. Collins said that he would like to make the point that different forms of art can relate to each other.

“The last day, there’s an attempt to connect my presence to the establishment of the museum,” Collins said. “In that regard it will be an interview with me about the link between poetry and other arts.”

The renowned poet has previously visited Bainbridge for other events. He is currently featured in a short online video for “The Conversation of Art,” a project of the art museum. His long-time friends, vice president of the Museum of Art Cynthia Sears and Frank Buxton of Hollywood fame, have also given him a reason to visit over the years. In that time he has made other island friends, too.

“I’ve known (Cynthia) since the early ’70s,” Collins said. “She was the first person to interview me when I wasn’t published as a poet.”

“I started visiting Bainbridge more than 15 years ago, since then I’ve made many friends,” Collins said. “I know the island pretty well for an outsider.”

Clearly, Collins is no stranger to Bainbridge Island. But now the award-winning poet is coming with a more formal purpose in mind.

“As the opening of the museum draws closer there is going to be a lot of attention and celebration,” Collins said. “I hope that my visit can do some of that; to celebrate the approach of its opening.”

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