The Hangover (or The Really Really Bad Headache)

It’s always nice when your teachers give you extra credit just because they saw you somewhere. It makes the college student feel that there is indeed light in this world.

I hadn’t heard of Billy Collins until my Literature and Writing professors started talking about him–and how we could get extra credit for watching him read his poetry for a campus event.

Now, I have literally heard Billy Collins, and he gave me way more than the benefit of extra credit; first, I found out that poetry lives when it’s read aloud by the poet. Any of you who have studied poetry in the classroom know how very painful it can be to sit through a read-aloud session with a group of unenthusiastic students. But when the actual poet reads–it’s like seeing a Van Gogh in person for the first time; you can actually see the thickness of the paint and the beauty in the colors as they truly are instead of the sucked-dry version that the printer created.

Second, I learned that poetry can hurt your face because it’s so hilarious. Most of Billy Collins’ poems had some sort of humor in them, even the more serious ones. A particular poem with a particularly dry sense of humor made me laugh so hard I had to fight to control myself from being that one person in the crowd who takes laughter to that shutup-and-listen-you’re-annoying-now level.

“This poem is called ‘The Hangover,'” he said. “Now, I know I’m at a Christian college, so none of you know what that is–” he grinned– “so just think of it as ‘The Really Really Bad Headache.'”

“If I were crowned emperor this morning,
every child who is playing Marco Polo
in the swimming pool of this motel,
shouting the name Marco Polo back and forth

Marco Polo Marco Polo

would be required to read a biography
of Marco Polo-a long one with fine print-
as well as a history of China and of Venice,
the birthplace of the venerated explorer

Marco Polo Marco Polo

after which each child would be quizzed
by me then executed by drowning
regardless how much they managed
to retain about the glorious life and times of

Marco Polo Marco Polo”


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