Billy Collins is an American phenomenon. No poet since Robert Frost has managed to combine high critical acclaim with such broad popular appeal. His work has appeared in a variety of periodicals including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The American Scholar, he is a Guggenheim fellow and a New York Public Library “Literary Lion.” His last three collections of poems have broken sales records for poetry. His readings are usually standing room only, and his audience – enhanced tremendously by his appearances on National Public Radio – includes people of all backgrounds and age groups. The poems themselves best explain this phenomenon. The typical Collins poem opens on a clear and hospitable note but soon takes an unexpected turn; poems that begin in irony may end in a moment of lyric surprise. No wonder Collins sees his poetry as “a form of travel writing” and considers humor “a door into the serious.” It is a door that many thousands of readers have opened with amazement and delight.
Billy Collins has published twelve collections of poetry, including Questions About Angels, The Art of Drowning, Sailing Alone Around the Room, Nine Horses, The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems, Ballistics, Horoscopes for the Dead, and Picnic, Lightning. His books Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems 2003 – 2013, The Rain in Portugal, and Whale Day And Other Poems were New York Times bestsellers. A collection of his haiku, She Was Just Seventeen, was published by Modern Haiku Press in fall 2006. He has also published two chapbooks, Video Poems and Pokerface. In addition, he has edited two anthologies of contemporary poetry: Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry and 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day, was the guest editor of The Best American Poetry 2006, and edited Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems about Birds, illustrated by David Allen Sibley. His newest book of poetry is Musical Tables (Penguin Random House, November 15, 2022). Paul Simon said; “The poetry of Billy Collins has a kindness that glitters with hard truth, and in Musical Tables he gives us a book of short, witty, often luminous snapshots of our sad and funny world.”
Included among the honors Billy Collins has received are fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He has also been awarded the Oscar Blumenthal Prize, the Bess Hokin Prize, the Frederick Bock Prize, and the Levinson Prize — all awarded by Poetry magazine. He has also received the Aiken-Taylor Award in Modern American Poetry, The Hall-Kenyon Prize, the Mailer Prize for Poetry, and the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award. In October 2004, Collins was selected as the inaugural recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s Mark Twain Award for Humor in Poetry.
In June 2001, Billy Collins was appointed United States Poet Laureate 2001-2003. In January 2004, he was named New York State Poet Laureate 2004-06. He is a former Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College of the City University of New York. In 2016 he was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts & Letters.
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Photo Laura Wilson