Billy Collins was born in New York City on March 22, 1941. He is the author of several books of poetry, including Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems (Random House, 2013), Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems (Random House, 2012); Ballistics: Poems (2008); She Was Just Seventeen (2006); The Trouble with Poetry (2005); Nine Horses (2002); Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems (2001); Picnic, Lightning (1998); The Art of Drowning (1995), which was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; Questions About Angels (1991), which was selected by Edward Hirsch for the National Poetry Series; The Apple That Astonished Paris (1988); Video Poems (1980); and Pokerface (1977).
A recording of Collins reading thirty-three of his poems, The Best Cigarette, was released in 1997. Collins’s poetry has appeared in anthologies, textbooks, and a variety of periodicals, including Poetry, American Poetry Review, American Scholar, Harper’s, Paris Review, and The New Yorker.
His work has been featured in the Pushcart Prize anthology and has been chosen several times for the annual Best American Poetry series. Collins has edited Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry (Random House, 2003), an anthology of contemporary poems for use in schools and was a guest editor for the 2006 edition of The Best American Poetry.
About Collins, the poet Stephen Dunn has said, “We seem to always know where we are in a Billy Collins poem, but not necessarily where he is going. I love to arrive with him at his arrivals. He doesn’t hide things from us, as I think lesser poets do. He allows us to overhear, clearly, what he himself has discovered.”
Collins served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003, and as the New York State Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006. His other honors and awards include the Mark Twain Prize for Humor in Poetry, as well as fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1992, he was chosen by the New York Public Library to serve as “Literary Lion”. He has conducted summer poetry workshops in Ireland at University College Galway, and taught at Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence, and Lehman College, City University of New York. He lives in Somers, New York. (poets.org)
I’ve learned from doing Friday Favorites that a lot of you folks aren’t Billy Collins fan. But I must confess the way the man’s mind goes willy-nilly all over the place and yet always seems to end up at the desired destination intrigues me. That and the fact that he writes not JUST poetry, but ABOUT WRITING poetry. He never fails to make me wonder what I’ve missed seeing. This is another one of my favorites by him.
A sentence starts out like a lone traveler
heading into a blizzard at midnight,
tilting into the wind, one arm shielding his face,
the tails of his thin coat flapping behind him.
There are easier ways of making sense,
the connoisseurship of gesture, for example.
You hold a girl’s face in your hands like a vase.
You lift a gun from the glove compartment
and toss it out the window into the desert heat.
These cool moments are blazing with silence.
The full moon makes sense. When a cloud crosses it
it becomes as eloquent as a bicycle leaning
outside a drugstore or a dog who sleeps all afternoon
in a corner of the couch.
Bare branches in winter are a form of writing.
The unclothed body is autobiography.
Every lake is a vowel, every island a noun.
But the traveler persists in his misery,
struggling all night through the deepening snow,
leaving a faint alphabet of bootprints
on the white hills and the white floors of valleys,
a message for field mice and passing crows.
At dawn he will spot the vine of smoke
rising from your chimney, and when he stands
before you shivering, draped in sparkling frost,
a smile will appear in the beard of icicles,
and the man will express a complete thought.