Tag Archives: Billy Collins

My Time with the Poetry of Billy Collins

Billy Collins, former U. S. Poet LaureateBilly Collins is one of the first poets I lighted on while foraging to find poetry that spoke to me.

In my search to improve my writing, I sought read writers whose writing allowed me to hear their messages. The idea of constantly appealing to others for decoding is not appealing to me. I prefer to read through the lines, sift through my knowledge base, and query the verses.

Trolling the poetry shelves at my local Barnes & Noble, the first thing that caught my eye, of course, were the titles. First one gem than another. Finally, I was mugged by The Art of Drowning ©1995, by Billy Collins. The title caught hold of my imagination, and I immediately had to know what that title meant.

After reading a few of the poems, I made the happy discovery that it was easy for me to be swept up in his lines-become-the-breeze of relating. And so I figured out that not all poets write to befuddle and confound me into giving up. That was about ten years ago. And I’ve enjoyed reading and hearing his poetry ever since.

Below you can listen to Billy Collins reading The Litany, one of my newer favorites, from The Trouble with Poetry ©2005

While reading through Ballistics ©2008, I found this jammed between the pages.

Inspirational Writers

Billy Collins makes me
want to write;
Lucille Clifton makes me
retire my poet’s pen and paper.
they swap inspirations.

© 2008 Shari Lynne Smothers

Billy Collins’ poems make me work in good ways, to understand his meaning. He tells me about beautiful things and simple treasures in the small moments. And he can make me laugh out loud, like in The Lanyard. His writing draws me in until I’m almost looking through his eyes, and I can see the world with new eyes, and new appreciation.

Below are just a few of his poems I’ve enjoyed, that I was able to find online.

Many of the poems in Collins’ collections are unrhymed, free verse, and are subtly rhythmic. Collins writes accessible poetry. He paints lovely, intricate latticework, detailed and strong enough for readers to cross over to that place where understanding is there for the sharing. Here’s one from The Apple That Astonished Paris.


They call Basque an orphan language.
Linguists do not know
what other languages gave it birth.

From the high window of the orphanage
it watches English walking alone to the cemetery
to visit the graves of its parents,
Latin and Anglo-Saxon

Some poetry readers and writers may not appreciate this quality, preferring instead to draw blood from us and themselves. I am of a different ilk. I try not to share my poems that no one else will get except for me and my best friends. I think when a writer publishes, the goal is to impart something comprehensible and meaningful for her and for we readers to share. Billy Collins accomplishes this very well for me. So, I thought I’d say so.

One of Collins’ books, Sailing Alone Around the Room ©2001, is a nice selection of poems from older collections, The Apple That Astonished Paris (1988), Questions About Angels (1991), The Art of Drowning (1995), and Picnic, Lightning (1998).