Lesley Assistant Professor of Creative Writing Aaron Smith writes about Poet Laureate Billy Collins, who will present at Lesley's Boston Speakers Series on Feb. 26.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Like Whitman or Frost, Collins documents our contemporary moment in verse both grounded in our collective vernacular, and, at the same time, entirely his own. He is a master of peeling away the layers of everyday life and transforming the seemingly mundane into the miraculous. In Collins’ world a speaker can fall in love with “a mouse / the cat…dropped under the dining room table” and bring the reader to an understanding that what might at first appear strange or darkly humorous is weighted with the knowledge that “[t]his is the best kind of love…without suspicion, / or silence on the telephone.” In Collins’ world time is a “little egg” and a sense of place is an “upholstered chair / with its dark brown covers, / angled into a room near a corner window.”
Collins, the author of ten books of poems, most recently Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems 2003-2013, served two terms as United States Poet Laureate (2001-2003) and was also New York State Poet Laureate (2004-2006). His other honors include fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. In October 2004, Collins was selected as the inaugural recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s Mark Twain Prize for Humor in Poetry. He is a Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College of the City University of New York, as well as a Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Winter Park Institute at Rollins College.
Collins’ ability “To see,” as Blake says, “a World in a Grain of Sand” has garnered him wide popularity as well as critical acclaim. Novelist Annie Proulx confesses, "I have never before felt possessive about a poet, but I am fiercely glad that Billy Collins is ours." John Updike noted Collins’ ability to “describe all the worlds that are and were and some others besides.” Often referred to as the “people’s poet,” Collins’ critical recognition is matched by his wide popular appeal. Comfortable on both The Colbert Report and National Public Radio, his work has an unprecedented, diverse readership not often enjoyed by a living poet.
At the heart of Collins’ wildly inventive work is a deep love of a world shaped into poetry and a love of poetry shaped by the world. Elegant stanzas crafted with flawless diction serve as the perfect vehicles for his precise, crystal images. Whether Collins’ speaker is imagining undressing the poet Emily Dickinson or describing a complacent student taking a final with “a cockatoo swinging freely in her green mind,” the only certainty a reader can expect is the uncertainty about where Collins will lead them. Dear Reader, you will be delighted to follow.
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