Study Guide

Introduction to Poetry Art and Culture

By Billy Collins

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Art and Culture

The title, "Introduction to Poetry," drops a pretty solid clue on us readers. It literally tells us the topic at hand: poetry. Through the speaker's descriptions and Collins' use of figurative language, it becomes pretty clear that poet and speaker think poetry is a great deal more than just a bunch of words on a piece of paper. In their eyes, poetry is an art form to be experienced and enjoyed—a living breathing part of our culture and our lives. For the students the speaker is trying to teach, poetry seems less like an art form and more like an enemy to be vanquished—slain like some kind of fire-breathing literary dragon so they can make off with its cave full of test answers (sorry for going all D&D with it, but we…actually we have no excuse).

Questions About Art and Culture

  1. What makes something art? Is poetry an art form? Why or why not? What do you think this poem would have to say about those questions?
  2. Why does the speaker (the teacher) have such a hard time getting the students to look at the poem the way he wants? Why do the students resort to poem-torture rather than poem-waterskiing?
  3. Like it our not, poetry has been a part of world culture for a long, long time and it doesn't look like it's going to die out any time soon, no matter how hard reality TV may try. What makes it so enduring? Why hasn't it just vanished from the cultural landscape like TGIF? Discuss.

Chew on This

Art appreciation cannot be taught. People either get it or they don't, so this poem misses the point.

For a society to be considered great, it must create art.

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