I went to hear Billy Collins speak yesterday. Imagine yourself listening to an hour and a half of poetry...and then imagine something not boring at all. His combination of self-effacing humor and intelligent, fresh play with language made the time fly by, and my friend and I agreed that we're jealous of his talent with words. But that's why he was Poet Laureate and we never will be.

Mr. Collins made some points about writing that apply to all of us, though, and I plan to write about them this week. He talked about finding your voice, about how the implication is that you have to crawl deep inside yourself and search your guts for it. That's not it at all, he claims. Voice comes from outside a person, from your synthesizing all the writers you've read and admire. We emulate (copy) what we like but combine those likes into our own version, which becomes our voice. Collins claims that what we call "literary influence" is simply our jealousy (his word) of someone's talent. Since there is nothing new under the sun, he is probably correct. I'm glad to hear it, because I was getting tired of all that introspection!

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