Question: What inspires you?
Billy Collins: Well it sounds very circular, but what inspires my poetry is other poetry. No one’s smart enough to go into a room and just invent literature or poetry. The reason you write poetry is that you’ve heard poetry. The reason you play the saxophone is that you’ve heard the saxophone. And that’s what produces my poetry – the poetry of the past and the poetry of the present I read today. There’s really no external . . . I mean there’s a kind of egotism that’s involved. It’s clearly the most egotistical kind of writing imaginable where the “I” – the capital “I” – is completely fore grounded. This starts around the time of Wordsworth where he said, “I wandered lonely as a cloud.”
I mean it’s quite presumptuous to think anyone would be interested in the fact that you wandered and that it was like a cloud . . . that your wandering was cloud-like. So there’s that. The ego likes to get on the branch and sing. You know, it likes to get up there and show its feathers and sing. And there’s that kind of demonstration of the self. But basically the other . . . the main writing inspiration is just other . . . other poetry, other poems.
July 4, 2007