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“The Lanyard” by Billy Collins

In “The Lanyard,” Billy Collins has chosen an everyday object he made as a child—a boxy, red-and-white lanyard—to explore a timeless question: Can you ever repay the debt you owe to your parents? His juxtaposition of the mundane and the profound is moving yet funny, as he casts an adult eye on the complexities inherent in the relationship between mother and son.


Known for his clear and accessible language, Collins is also a bestselling author, a rarity in the world of poetry. Collins’s poems have a light touch and are often gently humorous, as is evident in this wry appreciation of family relationships. In the poem “Introduction to Poetry,” he urges readers to hold verse up to the light, rather than “tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it.” In keeping with his mission to bring poetry into the mainstream of American life, especially for teens, Collins is the creator of “Poetry 180,” a Web site that offers a poem a day for use in secondary schools.

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