Best Quotes from Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.’

Billy Collins

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

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

When I write, I’m not trying to be funny. It’s the way I look at the world.

Billy Collins

I think my poems are slightly underrated by the word ‘accessible.’

Billy Collins

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

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

I don’t think anybody reads a book of poetry front to back. Editors and reviewers only. I don’t think anybody else does.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins

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.

Billy Collins