Billy Collins On The Great Poets

One of the most popular living poets in the United States, Billy Collins was born in New York City in 1941. Collins is the author of nine books of poetry, including She Was Just Seventeen (2006), The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems (2005), Nine Horses (2002), and Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems (2001). His work appears regularly in such periodicals as Poetry, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Harper's Magazine, and has been featured in various textbooks and anthologies, including those for the Pushcart Prize and the annual Best American Poetry series. Between 2001 and 2004, Collins served two terms at the 11th Poet Laureate of the United States. In his home state, Collins has been recognized as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library (1992) and selected as the New York State Poet for 2004. Other honors include fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation, and the first annual Mark Twain Prize for Humor in Poetry. He is currently a Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College in the Bronx, where has taught for over thirty years. Ideas recorded at the 2007 Aspen Ideas Festival on: 7/4/07
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Billy Collins: Well I mean poetry, I think, art moves in a kind of pendulum.  You can see even from the Greeks the argument as to whether literature should be in the common tongue, or should it be in an elevated language?   This pendulistic battle goes back and forth.  Wordsworth for instance, to go back to him, wanted to write poetry, as he said, in the speaking language of men the way . . . he wanted to get speech back into it. 

And so did Frost.  And as _____ also the idea of bringing . . . bringing poetry into context with common speech.  And the other camp would say that poetry has to be completely different from regular speech, that regular speech is down here and poetry takes place on another linguistic level.  Those two voices, or those two opposed positions, I think pretty much throughout the history of English literature at least, have determined these various movements back and forth.  And that would seem to be thanks to a number of poets that came after the high modernism of T.S. Elliot and Ezra Pound.  And you can add Harper and Wallace Stevens.  There’s been a movement back to the connection between poetry and common speech.  Those big modernists tried to get beyond personality.  They wanted to make something . . . poetry into something more than the expression of the individual personality.  But personality seems to have returned to poetry.


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