Billy Collins

(William James Collins)

Billy Collins
Billy Collins
  • Born: March 22, 1941
  • Nationality: American
  • Profession: Poet

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William James Collins, known as Billy Collins, 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. As of 2018, he is a teacher in the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton.

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A lasting marriage, they say, is one where the two reach for different sections of the Sunday paper. Me, I go right for the obituaries, just like those very elderly characters in Muriel Spark's spooky novel, 'Memento Mori.' Families, Children & Parenting
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. Time
Attempts to put my poems to music have had disastrous results in all cases. And the poem, if it's written with the ear, already has been set to its own verbal music as it was composed. Music, Chants & Rapps
Besides the aesthetics, besides teaching an appreciation of T.S. Eliot, a basic need is fulfilled when you teach English at CUNY.
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. Life ;Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex
Discovering Samuel Beckett in college was a big deal for me. I realized you could be very funny and very dark at the same time. Time ;Humor
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.
Emily Dickinson seems rather tame because she pretty much uses the same meter every time. It's called 'common meter.' It's a line of four beats that's followed by a line of three beats. Time
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. Literature, Writers & Writing
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. Humor
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.
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.
I did try to write stories in college because I was interested in writing, and I was interested in the sound of language, but I was just no good at narrative and at fiction.
I don't think anybody reads a book of poetry front to back. Editors and reviewers only. I don't think anybody else does. Literature, Writers & Writing
I don't think I've ever written a poem whose intention was just to be funny. I've written poems that start out funny and often shift into something more serious. Humor
I don't want to sound like an aesthete, but one has to be true to the art. And that means being true to the tradition of the art but also being true to your own artistic vision. Arts, Culture, Entertainment & Lifestyle
I don't write for an auditorium full of people. I don't write for the microphone; I write for the page.
I find a lot of poetry very disappointing, but I do have poets that I go back to. One book of poetry that I'd like to mention is 'The Exchange' by Sophie Cabot Black. Her poems are difficult without being too difficult. Literature, Writers & Writing
I find that my reading, particularly nonfiction, can inspire a poem as well as anything else.
I first came across 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree' in college, with other anthologized poems by Yeats.
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 have my Poetry 180 project, which I've made my main project. We encourage high schools, because that's really where, for most people, poetry dies off and gets buried under other adolescent pursuits. Literature, Writers & Writing
I just reached the point where plot-driven novels don't hold my interest because I don't care about the fate of characters anymore - whether Emily marries Tom or not, that kind of thing.
I know my voice has a limited range of motion; I don't write dramatic monologues and pretend to be other people. But so far, my voice is broad enough to accommodate most of what I want to put into my poetry. I like my persona; I often wish I were him and not me. Literature, Writers & Writing
I learned snails don't have ears. They live in silence. They go slowly. Slowly, slowly in silence.
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 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.
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. Literature, Writers & Writing
I think it's good not to make demands on the reader too early. But as the poem goes on, I want the journey of the poem to lead into some interesting places.
I think more influential than Emily Dickinson or Coleridge or Wordsworth on my imagination were Warner Brothers, Merrie Melodies, and Loony Tunes cartoons.
I think my poems are slightly underrated by the word 'accessible.'
I think what gets a poem going is an initiating line. Sometimes a first line will occur, and it goes nowhere; but other times - and this, I think, is a sense you develop - I can tell that the line wants to continue.
I think what gets a poem going is an initiating line. Sometimes a first line will occur, and it goes nowhere; but other times - and this, I think, is a sense you develop - I can tell that the line wants to continue. If it does, I can feel a sense of momentum - the poem finds a reason for continuing.
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 write with a Uni-Ball Onyx Micropoint on nine-by-seven bound notebooks made by a Canadian company called Blueline. After I do a few drafts, I type up the poem on a Macintosh G3 and then send it out the door.
If an artist is driven primarily by social responsibility, I think the art probably suffers because, again, just as leadership has a rather defined end point or purpose, social responsibility would seem to have a very clear moral context. Leaders & Leadership ;Arts, Culture, Entertainment & Lifestyle
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.
I'll listen to anything authentic whether it's bluegrass or gospel or blues.
I'm a great believer in poetry out of the classroom, in public places, on subways, trains, on cocktail napkins. I'd rather have my poems on the subway than around the seminar table at an MFA program. Literature, Writers & Writing
I'm a nearly uncontrollable Geoff Dyer fan, who I think is one of the most comically brilliant writers today.
I'm all for poetry catching up with technology, and just as there are iTunes, I think we should have iPoems. I mean, people should be able to walk around with their earbuds in and listening to poems on their iPod. Science, Mathematics, Engineering & Technology ;Literature, Writers & Writing
I'm an only child, and I can take all the attention you manage to pile on me.
I'm easily frightened, and I've also come to realize that old Catholic guilt or remorse is easily stimulated.
I'm going through life's cycles at an alarmingly fast pace, but my persona has a Peter Pan quality: he doesn't age. Life
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. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex ;Death ;Literature, Writers & Writing
I'm not a claustrophobe, but you don't need to be to feel claustrophobic inside an MRI. It's like being buried alive.
I'm pretty much all for poetry in public places - poetry on buses, poetry on subways, on billboards, on cereal boxes. Literature, Writers & Writing
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.
I'm very aware of the presence of a reader, and that probably is a reaction against a lot of poems that I do read which seem oblivious to my presence as a reader.
In the long revolt against inherited forms that has by now become the narrative of 20th-century poetry in English, no poet was more flamboyant or more recognizable in his iconoclasm than Cummings. Literature, Writers & Writing
It's an important social duty to spread the word of English to people whose livelihoods depend on knowing the language.
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. Time ;Literature, Writers & Writing
My persona is less miserable than a lot of contemporary poetry speakers are. Literature, Writers & Writing
My poems tend to have rhetorical structures; what I mean by that is they tend to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. There tends to be an opening, as if you were reading the opening chapter of a novel. They sound like I'm initiating something, or I'm making a move.
Now that I'm older, a real source of interest is the ages of the dead, the number; the day is off to an optimistic start when the departed are all older than I.
Often people, when they're confronted with a poem, it's like someone who keep saying 'what is the meaning of this? What is the meaning of this?' And that dulls us to the other pleasures poetry offers. Literature, Writers & Writing
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. Music, Chants & Rapps ;Literature, Writers & Writing
One of the ridiculous aspects of being a poet is the huge gulf between how seriously we take ourselves and how generally we are ignored by everybody else.
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. Literature, Writers & Writing
Poems are perfect for something to listen to while you're walking around because they don't take very long.
Poems, for me, begin as a social engagement. I want to establish a kind of sociability or even hospitality at the beginning of a poem. The title and the first few lines are a kind of welcome mat where I am inviting the reader inside.
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. Literature, Writers & Writing
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. Literature, Writers & Writing
Radio is such a perfect medium for the transmission of poetry, primarily because there just is the voice, there's no visual distraction. Literature, Writers & Writing
Some honor Cummings as the granddaddy of all American innovators in poetry and ascribe to him a diverse progeny that includes virtually any poet who considers the page a field and allows silence to be part of poetry's expressiveness. Literature, Writers & Writing
The disappointing second novel is measured against the brilliant first novel - often no novel lives up to the first. Literary improvement seems like an unfair expectation.
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. Trust
The life of Edward Estlin Cummings began with a childhood in Cambridge, Mass., that he described as happy, but he struggled in both his artistic and romantic exploits against the piousness of his father, an esteemed Harvard professor. Life ;Romantic
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.
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.
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. Travel ;Literature, Writers & Writing
The poets who have written the best poems about war seem to be the poets whose countries have experienced an invasion or vicious dictatorships. War & Peace
The public is probably more suspicious of poets than women, and maybe for good reason. Women
The whole world of publishing is moving to electronic, but when you put a poem on a screen and you increase the type size, the shape of a poem changes.
There are interesting forms of difficulty, and there are unprofitable forms of difficulty. I mean, I enjoy some difficult poetry, but some of it is impenetrable and I actually wouldn't want to penetrate it if I could, perhaps. Literature, Writers & Writing
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. Humor
To a poet, it's quite ruinous to have a poem distorted, out of shape, or squeezed, shall we say, into this tiny screen. But I'm not sure big digital companies are sensitive to the needs of poets.
Very few people have actually read Freud, but everyone seems prepared to talk about him in that Woody Allen way. To read Freud is not as much fun.
We love, you know, children love the ingredients of poetry. And then they go into this tunnel that we call adolescence, and when they come out of it, they hate poetry. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex ;Literature, Writers & Writing
When I became poet laureate, I was in a slightly uncomfortable position because I think a lot of poetry isn't worth reading. Literature, Writers & Writing
When I discovered the lyric poem, that advanced not by narrative steps but by blocks and layers of imagery, I said, 'Gee, I probably could do that. So let me try that.'
When I was a young man, I understood that poetry was two things - it was difficult to understand, but you could understand that the poet was miserable. So for a while there, I wrote poems that were hard to understand, even by me, but gave off whiffs of misery. Literature, Writers & Writing
When I write, I'm not trying to be funny. It's the way I look at the world. Humor
When you put a book together and arrange it, there's a lot of anxiety and turmoil about what order the poems should be in.
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.