From Billy Collins's MasterClass

Student Discussion: "The Crash" by Paul Epland

Billy and student Paul Epland discuss point of view in “The Crash.” Learn how Billy’s suggestion to add three words helps with the turn in the poem.

Topics include: Student Discussion: "The Crash" by Paul Epland


Billy and student Paul Epland discuss point of view in “The Crash.” Learn how Billy’s suggestion to add three words helps with the turn in the poem.

Topics include: Student Discussion: "The Crash" by Paul Epland

Billy Collins

Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry

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[MUSIC PLAYING] INTERVIEWER: I have Paul Epland here, who is a student poet, and he's agreed to read one of his poems. And then he and I are gonna say a few words about it. So welcome, Paul. And this is an intriguing poem you have here called, "The Crash," and I'd love it if you read it. I'd love to hear it in your voice. PAUL EPLAND: Thank you. "The Crash." "In a moment it was over-- the astounding silent thrash of metal replaced by the bludgeoned motor, clicking down in circles. It seems the little green sedan was unaware of the tree, a comet stopped in verdant careen, it sent a shower of fresh dirt into the air as the turf rose up to accommodate its tilting. Everywhere was covered in earthworms and glass. And I just sat, letting the oily white mayonnaise drip from my spinach and tomato sandwich, my body stuck to a bench planted in that ringing soil. Suddenly, it had always been there: the smoldering thing with its creased aluminum pricking the air, its roof folded inwards and squinting. No, never mind. Not like an eye; flinching-- like a loose fist before it's closed. They didn't want to see the shape it took, its chasse thrust out over narrow unbending hips, now disallowed their turn. "Best to dance while Rome burns, " he said, "since it must burn." The figure, a man wrenched from the heap, was hardly a specter in the black smoke. It flew away, flew away-- the firemen held up a thin white sheet and it became a shadow play. I moved into the space that opened then, as the stretcher slid into the unlit ambulance. The air was uncreated. A door swung open into clear. They'd have dragged me onto the pavement by my shoulders and starched shirt, my light having gone out already. The construction men would wear yellow vests, lean on their trucks parked in the wet August grass, and as my heart jumped itself dead they would spit brown juices to the hot cement. At home my book is still lying open by the window. Where the pale afternoon light comes in to churn up the dust. The cat doesn't seem to care, and no one says a word; a door slams somewhere." INTERVIEWER: A cat is an amazing way to end a poem-- isn't it?-- (laughs) about this violent, violent crash. I always feel, when I find an ending to a poem that has come to my rescue-- like the cat-- that kind of resolves things. I think the poem is quite amazing in that it spends a lot of its energy describing the violence of the crash. At the same time, there's some very, I'd say, dispassionate, objective, almost scholarly language in here. In the third stanza, it ends by you describing the car wreck as a smoldering thing, with its "creased aluminum pricking the air, its roof folded inwards and squinting." And then you-- the next stanza, "No, never mind. Not like an eye." So you've kind of rejected your own metaphor. And in that moment, I suddenly get a sense that you're talking to me. You know, that you are describing a crash and that you're saying no, Reader, let's change that metaphor. An...

Let imagination lead the way

Known for his wit and wisdom, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins is one of America’s most beloved contemporary poets. In his MasterClass, Billy teaches you to appreciate the emotional pull of poetry. Learn his approach to exploring subjects, incorporating humor, and finding your voice. Discover the profound in the everyday, and let poetry lead you to the unexpected.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I will continue to re-read & re-listen to this class...just now scouring the used book stores for Billy's Books....Thanks for this Master Class

Red glasses and a messy desk, we will get along well.

This has been my favorite Master Class so far, because it focuses most directly on my personal creative aspirations. He is a great teacher.

This class is thoughtful, informative, and supportive of poetry, of writing practice, and of poets.


Heather K.

I loved this poem and I understood his meaning perfectly, but back home sounds okay to me.

Jody L.

I disagree with Billy's suggestion. "Back at home" sounds too much like "Meanwhile, back at the ranch" to me. I think it's clear enough that the speaker is imagining his own death in the crash and thinking about what would be left behind.