Four-year-old whose Billy Collins recitation went viral on YouTube meets Collins, gets on NPR

Listen to (or read the transcript for) “Love Of Words Brings Child, Poet Together” by Ted Robbins for All Things Considered.

If you missed the video, I posted it back on August 24, just around the time it was beginning to go viral, along with another video of Collins himself reading the same poem (“Litany”). The boy, Samuel Chelpka, was 3 at the time the recording was made. Collins discovered the video and wrote them a note of appreciation, and last weekend they had a chance to meet. NPR was there.

“You’ve probably had that experience where you’ve read a poem and you don’t feel like you know what it quote means, yet you still enjoy it,” Christopher Chelpka said. “There’s something about the rhythm and the images that sparks your imagination.”

“He loves words,” Della Chelpka said. “He loves saying them and hearing them in many different forms.”

For all his sophistication, Samuel is still learning the basics of language. He grabbed an alphabet picture book off the shelf and handed it to the former poet laureate to read to him.

In a few years, Samuel may not even remember this meeting, but Collins will.

“It’s just an astounding realization of how a poem can travel away from your desk, away from the room you wrote it in and find its way into all these corners of life, and find its way into the mind of a 3-year-old child,” Collins said. “[It’s] just very moving.”

There was a lengthy discussion about this on the Women’s Poetry listserv in early September, with some people saying they found the video creepy or disquieting, but I felt then and continue to feel it’s nothing but wonderful, and might encourage other parents to inculcate a love of poetry in their kids. I see videos like this from proud Chinese parents all the time — apparently there’s nothing at all unusual about training three-year-olds to memorize and recite what must be, to them, completely incomprehensible poems from the Tang Dynasty. This is part of what it takes to maintain a vibrant poetry culture, something we haven’t really had for a very long time.

Anyway, I’m glad to see a poetry video being given attention in NPR’s flagship program, and I salute Mr. Collins for embracing the remix culture and being so supportive of other people envideoing his work.

Dave is the founder of Moving Poems, and posts videos for his own poems (along with lots of other stuff) at Via Negativa. Here's a bio.