Billy Collins quotes:

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  • I'm happy to stick with my persona. There are themes of love lost and love regained, but the main themes of all poems are basically love and death, and that seems to be the message of poetry.

  • I'm going through life's cycles at an alarmingly fast pace, but my persona has a Peter Pan quality: he doesn't age.

  • Often people, when they're confronted with a poem, it's like someone who keep saying 'what is the meaning of this? What is the meaning of this?' And that dulls us to the other pleasures poetry offers.

  • A lasting marriage, they say, is one where the two reach for different sections of the Sunday paper. Me, I go right for the obituaries, just like those very elderly characters in Muriel Spark's spooky novel, 'Memento Mori.'

  • I just reached the point where plot-driven novels don't hold my interest because I don't care about the fate of characters anymore - whether Emily marries Tom or not, that kind of thing.

  • I don't think anybody reads a book of poetry front to back. Editors and reviewers only. I don't think anybody else does.

  • Discovering Samuel Beckett in college was a big deal for me. I realized you could be very funny and very dark at the same time.

  • Poetry is my cheap means of transportation. By the end of the poem the reader should be in a different place from where he started. I would like him to be slightly disoriented at the end, like I drove him outside of town at night and dropped him off in a cornfield.

  • I find a lot of poetry very disappointing, but I do have poets that I go back to. One book of poetry that I'd like to mention is 'The Exchange' by Sophie Cabot Black. Her poems are difficult without being too difficult.

  • It's an important social duty to spread the word of English to people whose livelihoods depend on knowing the language.

  • I think if a poet wanted to lead, he or she would want the message to be unequivocally clear and free of ambiguity. Whereas poetry is actually the home of ambiguity, ambivalence and uncertainty.

  • I don't want to sound like an aesthete, but one has to be true to the art. And that means being true to the tradition of the art but also being true to your own artistic vision.

  • If an artist is driven primarily by social responsibility, I think the art probably suffers because, again, just as leadership has a rather defined end point or purpose, social responsibility would seem to have a very clear moral context.

  • Besides the aesthetics, besides teaching an appreciation of T.S. Eliot, a basic need is fulfilled when you teach English at CUNY.

  • We love, you know, children love the ingredients of poetry. And then they go into this tunnel that we call adolescence, and when they come out of it, they hate poetry.

  • Now that I'm older, a real source of interest is the ages of the dead, the number; the day is off to an optimistic start when the departed are all older than I.

  • One of the disadvantages of poetry over popular music is that if you write a pop song, it naturally gets into people's heads as they listen in the car. You don't have to memorize a Paul Simon song; it's just in your head, and you can sing along. With a poem, you have to will yourself to memorize it.

  • I find that my reading, particularly nonfiction, can inspire a poem as well as anything else.

  • The whole world of publishing is moving to electronic, but when you put a poem on a screen and you increase the type size, the shape of a poem changes.

  • In the long revolt against inherited forms that has by now become the narrative of 20th-century poetry in English, no poet was more flamboyant or more recognizable in his iconoclasm than Cummings.

  • When I was a young man, I understood that poetry was two things - it was difficult to understand, but you could understand that the poet was miserable. So for a while there, I wrote poems that were hard to understand, even by me, but gave off whiffs of misery.

  • Emily Dickinson seems rather tame because she pretty much uses the same meter every time. It's called 'common meter.' It's a line of four beats that's followed by a line of three beats.

  • I'm trying to write poems that involve beginning at a known place, and ending up at a slightly different place. I'm trying to take a little journey from one place to another, and it's usually from a realistic place, to a place in the imagination.

  • I try to write very fast. I don't revise very much. I write the poem in one sitting. Just let it rip. It's usually over in twenty to forty minutes. I'll go back and tinker with a word or two, change a line for some metrical reason weeks later, but I try to get the whole thing just done.

  • Attempts to put my poems to music have had disastrous results in all cases. And the poem, if it's written with the ear, already has been set to its own verbal music as it was composed.

  • I am increasingly attracted to restricting possibility in the poem by inflicting a form upon yourself. Once you impose some formal pattern on yourself, then the poem is pushing back. I think good poems are often the result of that kind of wrestling with the form.

  • I am a nonparticipant of social media. I'm not much attracted to anything that involves the willing forfeiture of privacy and the foregrounding of insignificance.

  • There are interesting forms of difficulty, and there are unprofitable forms of difficulty. I mean, I enjoy some difficult poetry, but some of it is impenetrable and I actually wouldn't want to penetrate it if I could, perhaps.

  • My poems tend to have rhetorical structures; what I mean by that is they tend to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. There tends to be an opening, as if you were reading the opening chapter of a novel. They sound like I'm initiating something, or I'm making a move.

  • My persona is less miserable than a lot of contemporary poetry speakers are.

  • I have my Poetry 180 project, which I've made my main project. We encourage high schools, because that's really where, for most people, poetry dies off and gets buried under other adolescent pursuits.

  • Very few people have actually read Freud, but everyone seems prepared to talk about him in that Woody Allen way. To read Freud is not as much fun.

  • The first line is the DNA of the poem; the rest of the poem is constructed out of that first line. A lot of it has to do with tone because tone is the key signature for the poem. The basis of trust for a reader used to be meter and end-rhyme.

  • The disappointing second novel is measured against the brilliant first novel - often no novel lives up to the first. Literary improvement seems like an unfair expectation.

  • I think it's good not to make demands on the reader too early. But as the poem goes on, I want the journey of the poem to lead into some interesting places.

  • I did try to write stories in college because I was interested in writing, and I was interested in the sound of language, but I was just no good at narrative and at fiction.

  • I'm very aware of the presence of a reader, and that probably is a reaction against a lot of poems that I do read which seem oblivious to my presence as a reader.

  • Some honor Cummings as the granddaddy of all American innovators in poetry and ascribe to him a diverse progeny that includes virtually any poet who considers the page a field and allows silence to be part of poetry's expressiveness.

  • I'm pretty much all for poetry in public places - poetry on buses, poetry on subways, on billboards, on cereal boxes.

  • The poem is not, as someone put it, deflective of entry. But the real question is, 'What happens to the reader once he or she gets inside the poem?' That's the real question for me, is getting the reader into the poem and then taking the reader somewhere, because I think of poetry as a kind of form of travel writing.

  • I think what gets a poem going is an initiating line. Sometimes a first line will occur, and it goes nowhere; but other times - and this, I think, is a sense you develop - I can tell that the line wants to continue. If it does, I can feel a sense of momentum - the poem finds a reason for continuing.

  • For most Americans, poetry plays no role in their everyday lives. But also for most Americans, contemporary painting or jazz or sculpture play no role either. I'm not saying poetry is singled out as a special thing to ignore.

  • There's something very authentic about humor, when you think about it. Anybody can pretend to be serious. But you can't pretend to be funny.

  • One of the ridiculous aspects of being a poet is the huge gulf between how seriously we take ourselves and how generally we are ignored by everybody else.

  • When you put a poem on a Kindle, the lines are broken in order to fit on the screen. And so instead of being the poet's decision, it becomes the device's decision.

  • But my heart is always propped up in a field on its tripod, ready for the next arrow.

  • But tomorrow, dawn will come the way I picture her, barefoot and disheveled, standing outside my window in one of the fragile cotton dresses of the poor. She will look in at me with her thin arms extended, offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light.

  • A sentence starts out like a lone traveler heading into a blizzard at midnight, tilting into the wind, one arm shielding his face, the tails of his thin coat flapping behind him.

  • Death is what makes life fun.

  • Robert Frost really started this whole thing rolling. He was, I believe, the first poet who started going to colleges. Before that, poets didn't give public readings very often, certainly not - there was no circuit of schools.

  • I think more influential than Emily Dickinson or Coleridge or Wordsworth on my imagination were Warner Brothers, Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons.

  • And strangely enoughthe only emotion I ever feel, is what the beaver must feel, as he bears each stick to his hidden construction, which creates the tranquil pond and gives the mallards somewhere to paddle, and the pair of swans a place to conceal their young

  • Poetry is my cheap means of transportation, by the end of the poem the reader should be in a different place from where he started. I would like him to be slightly disoriented at the end, like I drove him outside of town at night and dropped him off in a cornfield.

  • Every Day Is for the Thief is a vivid, episodic evocation of the truism that you can't go home again; but that doesn't mean you're not free to try. A return to his native Nigeria plunges Cole's charming narrator into a tempest of chaos, contradiction, and kinship in a place both endearingly familiar and unnervingly strange. The result is a tale that engages and disturbs.

  • You know how sometimes you just have a memory of looking up and seeing a face looking over your crib and then remember nothing until tenth grade? - I have one of these early memories where I'm in the back of my parents' car, a place I loved to spend a lot of time as an only child, not having to fight with venomous siblings over the only toy.

  • Part of writing is discovering the rules of the game and then deciding whether to follow the rules or to break them. The great thing about the game of poetry is that it's always your turn - I guess that goes back to my being an only child. So once it's under way, there is a sense of flow.

  • When I began to dare to be clear, because I think clarity is the real risk in poetry because you are exposed. You're out in the open field. You're actually saying things that are comprehensible, and it's easy to criticize something you can understand.

  • But tonight, the lion of contentment has placed a warm heavy paw on my chest.

  • The literary world is so full of pretension, and there's such an enormous gap between how seriously poets take themselves and how widely they're ignored by everybody else.

  • I felt at some point that I had nothing to lose, and [laughs] maybe I was wrong. I think, you know, there's always these little autobiographical secrets behind things. I think I was really attacking my earlier self, and this kind of pretentious figure.

  • All they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with a rope and torture a confession out of it. They begin beating it with a hose to find out what it really means.

  • It's time to float on the waters of the night.Time to wrap my arms around this book and press it to my chest, life preserver in a seat of unremarkable men and womenanonymous faces on the street, a hundred thousand unalphabitized thingsa million forgotten hours.

  • I think my poems are slightly underrated by the word 'accessible.'

  • I'm a nearly uncontrollable Geoff Dyer fan, who I think is one of the most comically brilliant writers today.

  • Radio is such a perfect medium for the transmission of poetry, primarily because there just is the voice, there's no visual distraction.

  • It seems only yesterday I used to believethere was nothing under my skin but light.If you cut me I could shine.

  • The fly lands on the swatter.The movie runs backwardsand catches fire in the projector.This species apes us wellby talking only about itself

  • though they know in their adult hearts,even as they threaten to banish Timmy to bedfor his appalling behavior,that their bosses are Big Fatty Stupids,their wives are Dopey Dopeheadsand that they themselves are Mr. Sillypants.

  • To a poet, it's quite ruinous to have a poem distorted, out of shape, or squeezed, shall we say, into this tiny screen. But I'm not sure big digital companies are sensitive to the needs of poets.

  • When i believe in everything, I could not seethe actors semicircled around a studio microphoneflipping the pages of scripts in unison.I only heard the voices, resonant, electric, adult,accusing each other of murder.

  • There are easier ways of making sense,the connoisseurship of gesture, for example.You hold a girl's face in your hands like a vase.You lift a gun from the glove compartmentand toss it out the window into the desert heat.

  • I'm a great believer in poetry out of the classroom, in public places, on subways, trains, on cocktail napkins. I'd rather have my poems on the subway than around the seminar table at an MFA program.

  • I just think that the world of workshops - I've written a poem that is a parody of workshop talk, I've written a poem that is a kind of parody of a garrulous poet at a poetry reading who spends an inordinate amount of time explaining the poem before reading it, I've written a number of satirical poems about other poets.

  • To write poetry is to be very alone, but you always have the company of your influences. But you also have the company of the form itself, which has a kind of consciousness. I mean, the sonnet will simply tell you, that's too many syllables or that's too many lines or that's the wrong place.So, instead of being alone, you're in dialogue with the form.

  • No one here likes a wet dog.

  • This love for everyday things, part natural from the wide eye of Infancy, part a literary calculation

  • The pen is an instrument of discovery rather than just a recording implement. If you write a letter of resignation or something with an agenda, you're simply using a pen to record what you have thought out.

  • People think of poetry as a school subject... Poetry is very frustrating to students because they don't have a taste for ambiguity, for one thing. That gives them a poetry hangover.

  • I don't write for an auditorium full of people. I don't write for the microphone; I write for the page.

  • I have a stack of those plastic card hotel room keys that I picked up on this latest book tour. It's about a yard tall. Ah yes, a stack of lonely nights.

  • Emily Dickinson never developed. She remained loyal to her persona and to that same little metrical song that stood her in such good stead. She is a striking example of complexity within a simple package. Her rhymes are like bows on the package.

  • I really have a distaste for poets who announce themselves at 50 yards; you know, here he comes, you know, with the beret and the cane and the cape and the whatever - whatever mishegas is part of the outfit there.

  • I'm easily frightened, and I've also come to realize that old Catholic guilt or remorse is easily stimulated.

  • A lot of my poems either have historical sequences or other kinds of chronological grids where I'm locating myself in time. I like to feel oriented, and I like to orient the reader at the beginning of a poem.

  • I first came across 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree' in college, with other anthologized poems by Yeats.

  • When I became poet laureate, I was in a slightly uncomfortable position because I think a lot of poetry isn't worth reading.

  • Cummings' career as a writer - and a painter - was as wobbly as his love life. He tried his hand at playwriting, satirical essays, and even a dance scenario for Lincoln Kirsten.

  • Listeners are kind of ambushed... if a poem just happens to be said when they're listening to the radio. The listener doesn't have time to deploy what I call their 'poetry deflector shields' that were installed in high school - there's little time to resist the poem.

  • I think more influential than Emily Dickinson or Coleridge or Wordsworth on my imagination were Warner Brothers, Merrie Melodies, and Loony Tunes cartoons.

  • I write with a Uni-Ball Onyx Micropoint on nine-by-seven bound notebooks made by a Canadian company called Blueline. After I do a few drafts, I type up the poem on a Macintosh G3 and then send it out the door.

  • Poems, for me, begin as a social engagement. I want to establish a kind of sociability or even hospitality at the beginning of a poem. The title and the first few lines are a kind of welcome mat where I am inviting the reader inside.

  • I know my voice has a limited range of motion; I don't write dramatic monologues and pretend to be other people. But so far, my voice is broad enough to accommodate most of what I want to put into my poetry. I like my persona; I often wish I were him and not me.

  • Poetry can do a lot of things to people. I mean it can improve your imagination. It can take you to new places. It can give you this incredible form of verbal pleasure.

  • Humor, for me, is really a gate of departure. It's a way of enticing a reader into a poem so that less funny things can take place later. It really is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.

  • If you write a letter of resignation or something with an agenda, you're simply using a pen to record what you have thought out. In a poem, the pen is more like a flashlight, a Geiger counter, or one of those metal detectors that people walk around beaches with.

  • The poets who have written the best poems about war seem to be the poets whose countries have experienced an invasion or vicious dictatorships.

  • The life of Edward Estlin Cummings began with a childhood in Cambridge, Mass., that he described as happy, but he struggled in both his artistic and romantic exploits against the piousness of his father, an esteemed Harvard professor.

  • The obituaries shot up to the top of my list when I discovered Robert McG. Thomas, the 'Times' obit writer who redesigned its traditional form and added a measure of stylistic elegance.

  • I'm not a claustrophobe, but you don't need to be to feel claustrophobic inside an MRI. It's like being buried alive.

  • The mind can be trained to relieve itself on paper.

  • I'm speaking to someone I'm trying to get to fall in love with me. I'm trying to speak intimately to one person. That should be clear. I'm not speaking to an audience. I'm not writing for the podium. I'm just writing, trying to write in a fairly quiet tone to one other reader who is by herself, or himself, and I'm trying to interrupt some silence in their life, which is utterance.

  • A motto I've adopted is, if at first you don't succeed, hide all evidence that you ever tried.

  • Poetry is like standing on the edge of a lake on a moonlit night and the light of the moon is always pointing straight at you.

  • In the process of simplifying oneself, one often discovers the thing called voice.

  • I was influenced by the Beats because I actually just began to commit adolescence around 1955, when "Howl" and Rebel Without a Cause and a lot of other new things were popping up. (Again I'm trying to give you a finite version of this career.) And then I came under the sway of Wallace Stevens when I was in college and graduate school, and basically set as a life goal the ambition of writing third-rate Wallace Stevens. I thought I would be completely content if I was recognized at some later point in my life as a third-rate Wallace Stevens.

  • Write the poem only you can write.

  • Nationalism is a type of insanity in which the boundaries of a land replace God.

  • There's a lot of unconscious activity that goes on I think in the composition of a poem.

  • Introduction To Poetry I ask them to take a poem and hold it up to the light like a color slide or press an ear against its hive. I say drop a mouse into a poem and watch him probe his way out, or walk inside the poem's room and feel the walls for a light switch. I want them to waterski across the surface of a poem waving at the author's name on the shore. But all they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it. They begin beating it with a hose to find out what it really means.

  • While the novelist is banging on his typewriter, the poet is watching a fly in the windowpane.

  • The name of the author is the first to go followed obediently by the title, the plot, the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of, as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain, to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

  • By clarity I don't mean that we're always in kind of a simple area where everything is clear and comforting and understood. Clarity is certainly a way toward disorientation because if you don't start out - if the reader isn't grounded, if the reader is disoriented in the beginning of the poem, then the reader can't be led astray or disoriented later.

  • And I should mention the light which falls through the big windows this time of day italicizing everything it touches...

  • Poems are not easy to start, and they're not easy to finish. There's a great pleasure in - I wouldn't say ease, but maybe kind of a fascinated ease that accompanies the actual writing of the poem. I find it very difficult to get started.

  • ‚?¶balancing the wish to be lost with the need to be found.

  • I find it strange that - at least in my take on it - the people who are the most alarmed about the dire times we live in are the ones who seem to be humorless, in their taste for poetry anyway. Humor is just an ingredient. It's always been in poetry. It kind of dropped out of poetry I think during the 19th and up to the mid-twentieth century. But it's found its way back. And it's simply an ingredient.

  • So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.

  • I think the pleasure of form is that you have a companion with you besides all the poetry you have ever read.

  • I think a good poem should have some inscrutable part. You can't quite explain it. The poem can only explain itself to a certain limit and at that point you enter into a little bit of mystery. That for me is the perfect poem: to begin in clarity and to end in mystery.

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