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Billy Collins

  • American poet
  • Born March 22, 1941

William James Collins, known as Billy Collins, (born March 22, 1941) is an American poet, appointed as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. In 2016, Collins retired from his position as a Distinguished Professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York after teaching there almost 50 years. Collins is the Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Winter Park Institute at Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida. Collins was considered as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library (1992) and selected as the New York State Poet for 2004 through 2006.


I don't write for an auditorium full of people. I don't write for the microphone; I write for the page.




I'm trying to write poems that involve beginning at a known place, and ending up at a slightly different place. I'm trying to take a little journey from one place to another, and it's usually from a realistic place, to a place in the imagination.




Radio is such a perfect medium for the transmission of poetry, primarily because there just is the voice, there's no visual distraction.




Poetry is my cheap means of transportation. By the end of the poem the reader should be in a different place from where he started. I would like him to be slightly disoriented at the end, like I drove him outside of town at night and dropped him off in a cornfield.




I first came across 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree' in college, with other anthologized poems by Yeats.




People think of poetry as a school subject... Poetry is very frustrating to students because they don't have a taste for ambiguity, for one thing. That gives them a poetry hangover.




For most Americans, poetry plays no role in their everyday lives. But also for most Americans, contemporary painting or jazz or sculpture play no role either. I'm not saying poetry is singled out as a special thing to ignore.




The poem is not, as someone put it, deflective of entry. But the real question is, 'What happens to the reader once he or she gets inside the poem?' That's the real question for me, is getting the reader into the poem and then taking the reader somewhere, because I think of poetry as a kind of form of travel writing.




The first line is the DNA of the poem; the rest of the poem is constructed out of that first line. A lot of it has to do with tone because tone is the key signature for the poem. The basis of trust for a reader used to be meter and end-rhyme.




Listeners are kind of ambushed... if a poem just happens to be said when they're listening to the radio. The listener doesn't have time to deploy what I call their 'poetry deflector shields' that were installed in high school - there's little time to resist the poem.




I try to write very fast. I don't revise very much. I write the poem in one sitting. Just let it rip. It's usually over in twenty to forty minutes. I'll go back and tinker with a word or two, change a line for some metrical reason weeks later, but I try to get the whole thing just done.




I am a nonparticipant of social media. I'm not much attracted to anything that involves the willing forfeiture of privacy and the foregrounding of insignificance.




Cummings' career as a writer - and a painter - was as wobbly as his love life. He tried his hand at playwriting, satirical essays, and even a dance scenario for Lincoln Kirsten.




Humor, for me, is really a gate of departure. It's a way of enticing a reader into a poem so that less funny things can take place later. It really is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.




I really have a distaste for poets who announce themselves at 50 yards; you know, here he comes, you know, with the beret and the cane and the cape and the whatever - whatever mishegas is part of the outfit there.




I learned snails don't have ears. They live in silence. They go slowly. Slowly, slowly in silence.




The obituaries shot up to the top of my list when I discovered Robert McG. Thomas, the 'Times' obit writer who redesigned its traditional form and added a measure of stylistic elegance.




When I became poet laureate, I was in a slightly uncomfortable position because I think a lot of poetry isn't worth reading.




There's something very authentic about humor, when you think about it. Anybody can pretend to be serious. But you can't pretend to be funny.




I find that my reading, particularly nonfiction, can inspire a poem as well as anything else.




I think if a poet wanted to lead, he or she would want the message to be unequivocally clear and free of ambiguity. Whereas poetry is actually the home of ambiguity, ambivalence and uncertainty.




I'm pretty much all for poetry in public places - poetry on buses, poetry on subways, on billboards, on cereal boxes.




The pen is an instrument of discovery rather than just a recording implement. If you write a letter of resignation or something with an agenda, you're simply using a pen to record what you have thought out.




I think 'accessible' just means that the reader can walk into the poem without difficulty. The poem is not, as someone put it, deflective of entry.




If you write a letter of resignation or something with an agenda, you're simply using a pen to record what you have thought out. In a poem, the pen is more like a flashlight, a Geiger counter, or one of those metal detectors that people walk around beaches with.




Emily Dickinson never developed. She remained loyal to her persona and to that same little metrical song that stood her in such good stead. She is a striking example of complexity within a simple package. Her rhymes are like bows on the package.




Poetry can do a lot of things to people. I mean it can improve your imagination. It can take you to new places. It can give you this incredible form of verbal pleasure.




A lot of my poems either have historical sequences or other kinds of chronological grids where I'm locating myself in time. I like to feel oriented, and I like to orient the reader at the beginning of a poem.




I am increasingly attracted to restricting possibility in the poem by inflicting a form upon yourself. Once you impose some formal pattern on yourself, then the poem is pushing back. I think good poems are often the result of that kind of wrestling with the form.




When you put a poem on a Kindle, the lines are broken in order to fit on the screen. And so instead of being the poet's decision, it becomes the device's decision.




The public is probably more suspicious of poets than women, and maybe for good reason.




The poets who have written the best poems about war seem to be the poets whose countries have experienced an invasion or vicious dictatorships.




One of the disadvantages of poetry over popular music is that if you write a pop song, it naturally gets into people's heads as they listen in the car. You don't have to memorize a Paul Simon song; it's just in your head, and you can sing along. With a poem, you have to will yourself to memorize it.




I have a stack of those plastic card hotel room keys that I picked up on this latest book tour. It's about a yard tall. Ah yes, a stack of lonely nights.




I'm happy to stick with my persona. There are themes of love lost and love regained, but the main themes of all poems are basically love and death, and that seems to be the message of poetry.




I'm an only child, and I can take all the attention you manage to pile on me.



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