Billy Collins
Poet; Former U.S. Poet Laureate
01:13

What are the recurring themes in your poetry?

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Everything flows from death.

Billy Collins

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

What are the recurring themes in your poetry?

 

Billy Collins: I mean, the theme of poetry is death. The theme of literature is essentially misery leading to death. They asked Freud, “What is the aim of life?” Death is what he says. So that’s the subject of poetry. Mortality is the overarching subject of poetry. I mean some would say love is the subject of poetry, but it’s usually love in the context of death. Like the great poem by Andrew Marvell to his coy mistress, and the reason they should make love is because they’re not going to live forever. And the oldest theme in poetry is “carpe diem”. It’s seize the day. And the reason you want to “carpe” your “diems” is that you don’t have that many “diems” given to you! So this urgency that floods into your life when you see it through this lens of death . . . I mean, that seems to be the basic theme of poetry. And my poetry is no different.

 

Recorded on: July 4, 2007

 


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