Words, Words, Words: The Craft of Writing

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


Billy Collins: Education, I mean teaching literature allows you as a writer to re-read literature; the kind of literature you’d want to re-read semester after semester. And teaching also gives you time to write. I find that teaching and poetry go right together and I don’t see any conflict there. There’s an interview-type question that involves the word “balance”, and it’s often, “How do you balance having six children, and starting this new company, and writing a novel, and being a ballerina at the same time? How do you balance all those things?”

I’m not trying to put a question in your mouth, but if the question were asked to a poet, it would be something like, “How do you manage to balance writing a poem every two weeks and doing absolutely nothing in between?” I mean that would be; I think it’s a very delicate act of balancing there. It’s not a labor-intensive job. You know, Max _______ – I like quoting this – said that, “The hardest thing about being a poet was knowing what to do with the other 23½ hours of the day.” So there are times for other things.

 July 4, 2007