Student Discussion: "The Crash" by Paul Epland

Billy Collins

Lesson time 8:05 min

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.

Billy Collins
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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’ve been inspired to be more consistent. I’m concerned because I have many interests and a very full life. I think I can commit to a haiku/day. Love love Billy Collins as a teacher and will listen to the class again.

Billy, you make poetry delicious. You make poetry relevant and relatable. I wish everyone could taste this dish.

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Well, I've just started to write a tons of poems per day. I've tried verse libre))And I'm happy about it.


Kaerla F.

More violence, as the student poet relates a car crash he witnessed. It sounds to me as if the student poet is trying to work through some trauma around this event, and we get a lesson about poetry out of that? At best, this lesson feels a little tone deaf to me.

Tauna S.

It goes to show even in poetry you need at least one Beta reader, to see what you miss. Like jumping from here, to there, to here. Thought I love the last part with the cat best. Next the part with being pulled out by the shoulders. Not the beginning so much if it is supposed to be one person, then another. I think if it were an onlooker seeing the scene, not so dispassionately as the construction workers or the medics, who are used to such things. Still people stop and tie up traffic hoping to see such things. I wonder if it is to be able to say "glad it was them and not me." or to see if it is someone they know, or just bloodthirsty like the audiences at ancient "Roman Circuses" I think the poem would have been much better without that element and the first stanza.

A fellow student

This discussion wasn't as enlightening as that of the previous lesson. I would have liked to know more about what sparked the writing of the poem and more details about the student's approach to the subject and how he settled upon the poem that was presented.

Mary J.

I thought the final stanza was back to the original narrator observing the crash from his sandwich vantage point. It was too uncomfortable thinking about moving into the space created by the dead victim.

John S.

I do not believe this segment was a powerful as most of the others in this course. Epland's poem "Crash" does illustrate the concept of the "uninvolved distant voice"...the "neutral observer," but there wasn't any mention of how one might attempt to create this voice in other situations. I think I recall a Frost poem where a young boy loses his hand in a saw mill and dies from his injuries, and how Frost suggests that after such a tragedy life still goes on. In all fairness, I suppose I am not a fan of "Crash," but that is "on me."

Maria Jose G.

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.