Poem of the Day: ‘The Five Spot’ by Billy Collins

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

In 2014’s “The Joy of the Memorized Poem,” former Poet Laureate Billy Collins describes why poetry matters in contemporary life:

Poetry privileges subjectivity. It foregrounds the interior life of the writer, who is trying to draw in a reader. And it gets readers into contact with their own subjective life. This is valuable, especially now. If you look around at the society we live in, we’re being pulled constantly into public life … I think I read recently that we’re not suffering from an overflow of information—we’ve suffering from an overflow of insignificance. Well, poetry becomes an oasis or sanctuary from the forces constantly drawing us into social and public life.

Poetry exerts a different kind of pull on us. It’s a pull towards meaning and subjectivity.

Collins offers just such an insight in “The Five Spot,” from our May 2014 issue. In a characteristically graceful and plain-spoken style, he recounts the experience of watching a musician play several instruments at the same time:

Even in my youth I saw
this not as a lesson in keeping busy
with one thing or another,
but as a joyous impossible lesson
in how to do it all at once

Allow Collins to draw you further into his interior life—and your own subjective one—by reading the full poem and exploring some of his other works in our archives.