By Billy Collins

You have to start somewhere, as every teacher knows, so why not begin with something real? After all, the ordinary things of our experience provide the images in poems, which can anchor them to reality and sometimes serve as keyholes in the doors of perception. Try looking at the world through “a transparent eyeball,” as Emerson called it, I might advise my students later in the lesson, if I could just get my flippancy under control for a moment.

Lesson Plan

Overcast morning, 

cool and grey.

The cat bends low to drink

from the swimming pool

like a tiger at an oasis.

I bend to snip off

a few dead twigs

from a miniature orange tree

with its miniature oranges.

In an hour I will talk

to some students about a poem

I wrote over 30 years ago.

I think I will start off 

by telling them about

the miniature orange tree

with its miniature oranges

in a terracotta pot by the pool

and just go from there.


Photo by Suzannah Gilman

Billy Collins is a former two-term U.S. Poet Laureate (2002–03) and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. “Lesson Plan” is printed with permission of the author. Collins’s most recent book is Musical Tables (Penguin Random House, 2022).

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