Billy’s history

Poetry came to Billy slowly.

He wanted to be a poet since he was in high school.

He started fooling around with words.

Billy’s father was not a poetic type but brought home Poetry magazine to Billy in high school.

In Poetry magazine, Billy read contemporary poetry. At school he read traditional poems by male, dead, with beards, with three names.

Contemporary poetry talked to Billy using the language of everyday life.

He would find words that go together that shouldn’t but are cool and marked these on the margin. He appreciated the verbal sparks of the poems even without comprehending them.

Patrick Cavanaugh answer when asked how he became a poet: I started fooling around with words and at some point it became my life.

Getting published

He wanted to be a poet but it was an aspirational wanting.

==He didn’t know how to be one: maybe write poems in the side, keep it secret, get published in a magazine, have a book a poetry and sell a thousand copies, and that’s it.

==Being published in poetry is a big deal, a big step. There are lots of unpublished poets.

==His first two books were chapbooks published by presses that have now disappeared.

  • Pokerface: Poems by Billy Collins (25 pages), put together by a hippy couple in LA. Literally handmade.
  • These chapbooks were what he had under his belt until he reached his forties.

==He was published in very tiny magazines other people hadn’t heard of. He reached a point of desperation and anger where he didn’t care about where he got published.

This changed gradually.

==Something very important happened with an editor named Miller Williams at the University of Arkansas Press. He sent 40 poems to this editor he never met. He sent the poems back with 17 or so poems with paper clips and included a brief note: The poems I have paper clipped, you have something there. The other poems do not live up to the standard set by those poems. If you can write more poems that with the paper clips, I’ll publish your book.

That was enough for Billy to put the pedal on the metal.

He threw all the other poems. Held on to the paper clipped poems. In the next two years, he dedicated himself to writing poems up to the standard of those poems.

==Those paper clips were his MFA. Miller Williams showed him where he was good and asked him to live up to that standard. Instead of importing another poet’s standard and making you live up to it.

Live up to your best.

First book: The Apple to the Storage Paris

Sailing Alone Around the Room

Another Reason I Keep a Gun in the House

The Lesson

Winter Syntax

Advice to Writers



My Number

Introduction to Poetry


A history of weather


The History Teacher


Osso buco




On Turning Ten


Tuesday June 4 1991





Fishing on the Susquehanna in July

To a Stranger Born in Some Distant Country Hundred of Years

Picnic, Lightning



I chop some parsley while listening to art blakey’s version of “three blind mice”

Afternoon with irish cows



Victoria’s Secret

Paradelle for Susan

Lines lost among trees

Taking off emily dickinson’s clothes

The night house

The death of the hat





The waitress

Iron bridge