National Poetry Month: Billy Collins

When Serena at Savvy Verse & Wit asked for bloggers to sign up to do posts for National Poetry Month, I offered to do a poet spotlight on Billy Collins. When someone asks who my favorite poets are, Billy Collins is the first name that comes to mind. When someone who is new to poetry asks where to start, Billy Collins is the first name that comes to mind. His poetry is simple and beautiful, profound and honest. More than once I have found myself literally sighing at the end of one of his poems. At other times, I am amazed to find tears spring to my eyes over one of the truths he has revealed in a completely new way. Simply put, I adore him.

Billy Collins was born in 1941 New York. He has written many collections of poetry, including three of my absolute favorites: The Trouble with Poetry: And Other Poems, Questions About Angels, and Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems.

Collins was named U.S. Poet Laureate in 2001. He has given poetry workshops in Ireland, and has taught at Columbia University and Lehman College. It would be so amazing to take one of his classes!

I have featured Collins and his poetry many times on both this blog and my personal blog. In my review of Questions About Angels, I said, “Reading Billy Collins is like soaking in a hot bath after a long day, or diving into a dish of your favorite ice cream. His poems are deceptively simple – you don’t have to read them over and over again to decipher their meaning. And yet you will want to read them over and over again for the pure beauty and joy of them, and because you’ll find something new each time you do. His poems alternately make me laugh, bring a lump to my throat, and elicit a sigh of pleasure or melancholy when I finish one. There really are no words to use to tell you how much I adore his work.”

Here’s one for writers and aspiring writers:

Advice to Writers

Even if it keeps you up all night,
wash down the walls and scrub the floor
of your study before composing a syllable.

Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way.
Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.

The more you clean, the more brilliant
your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take
to the open fields to scour the undersides
of rocks or swab in the dark forest
upper branches, nests full of eggs.

When you find your way back home
and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink,
you will behold in the light of dawn
the immaculate altar of your desk,
a clean surface in the middle of a clean world.

From a small vase, sparkling blue, lift
a yellow pencil, the sharpest of the bouquet,
and cover pages with tiny sentences
like long rows of devoted ants
that followed you in from the woods.

~ from Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins

Here are some Collins poems – or pieces of poems – I have posted in the past:

~ Poetry
~ Introduction to Poetry
~ Books
~ The Trouble with Poetry
~ The Flying Notebook
~ I Ask You

Other Billy Collins links:

~ Billy Collins Action Poetry – beautiful animation designed to go with Collins reading his work.
~ The Meridian: Q&A with Professor Billy Collins
~ Billy Collins at

There are many videos on YouTube of Collins talking about and reading his work. I’ll leave you with one of my favorites:

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40 Responses to National Poetry Month: Billy Collins

  1. Savvyverseandwit
    Twitter: SavvyVerseWit

    Thanks so much for posting about Billy Collins and his work. I really adore his poems and all the work he has done for poetry over the years…and getting more children involved with it.

    Thanks for participating, and be sure to include your link in Mr. Linky at and email it to winabook.
    .-= Savvyverseandwit´s last blog ..Poetry Speaks Who I Am by Elise Paschen =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Serena – I had so much fun putting this together! Thanks so much for hosting the NPM tour. 🙂

  2. Very nice post! I can understand the poems you spotlighted, so maybe there is hope for me.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Kathy – there is always hope! 🙂 I really think it’s just a matter of finding the right poet.

  3. Anna says:

    I liked the poem you posted. I don’t think I’ve read any Billy Collins (other than that one just now), but I’m going to have to change that!
    .-= Anna´s last blog ..Review: The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli =-.

  4. Tea says:

    Your love for Billy Collins poetry really comes across as real. I love the video Sweet Talk. I like how he thinks of her as the sunlight in the Edward Hopper painting. I love it when art and literature come together in one place. Thanks for a great and memorable treat.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Tea – you’re welcome- thanks for letting me know you enjoyed it!

  5. Jeanne says:

    I’ve never heard anyone say they don’t like Billy Collins, even in person My sense is that he is nearly universally beloved!
    My perennial favorite of his poems is Introduction to Poetry where the students tie the poem to a chair and beat it in an attempt to find out “what it really means.”
    .-= Jeanne´s last blog ..Spring =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Jeanne – I love that one, too. And I think you’re right – he simply seems like a nice person.

  6. Kathleen says:

    A co-worker introduced me to Billy Collins’ work about 5 years ago. His poetry always makes me think and often times brings me to tears and I am not a big poetry person!
    .-= Kathleen´s last blog ..I’m Going on Tour with John Sandford =-.

  7. Carrie, I consider myself a pretty faithful reader of your blog and yet somehow I’ve managed to miss any previous references to Billy Collins and his work! I’m glad that’s no longer the case — I love this poem (and all the other ones you linked to)! Thanks for sharing his poetry with us.
    .-= avisannschild´s last blog ..Similar Covers: More of the Same =-.

  8. By the way, is that the poem in its totality or only an excerpt?
    .-= avisannschild´s last blog ..Similar Covers: More of the Same =-.

  9. Valerie says:

    I like Billy Collins, too! I’m glad that you’ve featured him during this blog tour, because he deserves the attention.
    .-= Valerie´s last blog ..“Emotional Geology” by Linda Gillard, and an Interview with the Author =-.

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  11. Okay, that poem made me feel guilty. My writing space is a MESS. And I sort of like it this way, actually. Keeps me focused. (I can write, or I can clean. Hmm. I’ll deal with this stuff later and write now.)

    I’m dropping in to let you know I’ve got this posted at Win a Book. Thanks for the link!
    .-= Susan Helene Gottfried´s last blog ..National Poetry Month =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Susan – I think that’s great! I think he was making a comment on all the things writers use to procrastinate. 🙂

  12. iliana says:

    He is one of my favorite poets. I just love his poetry – it’s just so complex. There’s this simplicity about it yet underneath there are these powerful thoughts and sentiments. I was very lucky a couple of years ago I got to see him at a university and it was the best. Thank you for posting this 🙂
    .-= iliana´s last blog ..Making Books =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Iliana – you are so lucky to have seen him in person! He’s one person I would get all fan-girly over, I think. 🙂

  13. Nymeth says:

    I’ve only read a handful of Collins’ poems, but I enjoyed them all SO much. I need to get one of his books!
    .-= Nymeth´s last blog ..Doreen by Barbara Noble =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Nymeth – Sailing Alone Around the Room is a great place to start – it has some of the best from his earlier collections, plus some newer ones, too.

  14. I’ve never read Collins’ poems before, but I have to say:
    Wow, such great poems!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂
    .-= Estrella Azul´s last blog ..Perhaps… – by Estrella Azul =-.

  15. Thanks for the introduction to this amazing poet! I don’t know a lot about poetry, but the blog tour is helping introduce me to so many wonderful poets to check out!
    .-= Online Publicist´s last blog ..Thanks, Delta winner, & Poetry! =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Lisa – the tour has been a great opportunity to experience a lot of poetry!

  16. melanie says:

    Carrie, I often use Billy Collins as a gateway into poetry. His language never threatens, and his poems often cause people to realize that everyday language and subjects can be the tools for writing their own poetry.

    I love the one you posted.

    .-= melanie´s last blog ..Song of Two Worlds – Alan Lightman =-.

  17. Alex says:

    I am doing a blog on Billy Collins for a school research project and I really enjoy reading his poems! I like how he takes simple things in life and makes them seem so important. It shows how much people take for granted and just how great life is. I really like this blog, I haven’t seen all of the poems you posted before so it was fun to read them! I really like to hear him read his poems aloud too, he recites them perfectly. Thanks for sharing so much on Collins!

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  19. amy s says:

    excellent – enjoyed reading all of this. since i am ‘old’ i actually had Billy Collins as my professor in college – 28 years later i was in a masters poetry workshop with him – humbling indeed. i do remember how incredibly funny and non-threatening his comments were to all of us hopefuls…..”if this poem mugged you, for instance, would you be able to describe it to the police?” and “your poem needs to get out of bed – wash its face and quite possibly comb its hair”. yup…there is no one like him! thanks for sharing.

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