How have your teachers shaped you?
Billy Collins: The one thing about teachers . . . about being influenced by teachers . . . I could remember – in terms of my poetry writing – a number of teachers who . . . who encouraged me to keep writing and seemed like an innocent thing to do at the time. But the teachers I really remember vividly were the two or three teachers who were very discouraging to me, and very dismissive of my poetry, and were quick to tell me that it was nothing but a bunch of teenage, hormonal overdrive or overspill.
And they might have been right in an aesthetic, literary, critical sense; but they really inspired me to keep writing to prove them wrong. And I think . . . I mean, I know I have a much keener appetite for revenge than I do for approval. So the teachers that approved me I . . . Approval never meant that much to me. I think I got it so much from my mother I didn’t need outside approval. But if you discouraged me, that would get me going. And when I got a phone call from the Library of Congress in 2001 telling me I was Poet Laureate of the United States, I thought of those teachers who discouraged me. And that added a little bit of sugar to the experience.
Billy Collins, on his fraught relationship with his teachers.
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