Guest Post by William Soule: Writers to Read Part II — Billy Collins

You should remember Will’s post on Bukowski from a couple of weeks ago, and more recently, my collection of Billy Collins poems from YouTube. To continue the general theme, here’s Will again with Part III of his “Writers to Read” series, this time focussing on the great Mr Collins.

“…the trouble with poetry is that it encourages the writing of more poetry…”

A poet known for his accessibility, those of you that don’t read poetry because it’s hard to “get” won’t have a hard time with Billy Collins, a former U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-03) from New York City. A winner of multiple awards and honors including the “Mark Twain Prize” and fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation, Collins has become one of the most well known poets of our time.

Although an English professor at Lehman College in New York, Collins has a passion for helping young readers appreciate the world of poetry, doing readings at different high schools across the U.S. and even releasing two anthologies targeted for schools entitled “Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry” and “180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day.” Both books feature 180 poems, one to be read for each day of the school year. The Library of Congress also maintains a website called “Poetry 180″ with poems selected by Collins. Read the first poem there entitled “Introduction to Poetry.” The poem is also found in his “first real book of poems,” as he describes it, entitled “The Apple that Astonished Paris.”

During his laureateship, he addressed the special joint session of Congress that was held in remembrance of the 9/11 attacks with “The Names.” The abecedarian-type poem goes through different names, reminding us of the very people we see everyday with “Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers, / The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.”

Do a quick search on YouTube and you’ll find many readings featuring a bald Billy Collins and his calm, almost nonchalant voice that really shows off the humor in his poems. It isn’t hard to get the audience riled up, such as with “The Lanyard” (which also makes a great Mother’s Day poem considering it’s coming up in just a few days!) and “Litany,” which pokes fun at a love poem by copying its first two lines as a starting point for his.

Fan-made videos to his poems have also been popping up, one of my favorites being “The Dead” from his book “Sailing Alone Around the Room,” a more spiritual poem that begins with “The dead are always looking down on us, they say, / while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich.” Another favorite, simply called “Forgetfulness,” details the experience of memory loss.

The author of ten books of poetry (including two that are out of print) and a couple audio recordings such as the 34-poem collection “The Best Cigarette” (all you smokers, read the title poem here or watch a video of it here), Billy Collins is one of the most successful and best selling poets today. About poetry, he has said, “I think more people should be reading it, but maybe fewer people should be writing it, … there’s an abundance of unreadable poetry out there.” However, reading is one of the best ways to improve your writing, so pick up a few of his books and get some awesome poems written. For more information about the literary lion from New York, check out

Recommended reading:
Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems
The Apple That Astonished Paris
The Art of Drowning

William Soule is a young poet currently living in Utah. His works have appeared in Read This Magazine, elimae, Tattoo Highway, and the delinquent, among others — he is also a former ONS Featured Poet. He runs the webzine Clearfield Review, and works as a Literature Gallery Director for artist-networking site deviantART. Besides writing poetry, William also plays the drums and is a health food nut. He raises a two year old pit bull named Bronē, offers everyone online cookies, and comments on people’s faces.

Want to write a ONS guest post? Drop me a line to!

(Photo by BruceTurner

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40 Responses to “Guest Post by William Soule: Writers to Read Part II — Billy Collins”

  1. Regina Says:

    Oh, Billy Collins- The Art of Drowning is one of my first loves- I actually have an autographed of this book!
    A wonderful post!

  2. Jessie Carty Says:

    Billy Collins was one of the first poets I found on YouTube but it amazing the number of poets who are on YouTube. If you try user name at I have subscribed to quite a few!

    Great article :)

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