Billy Collins: A Special Global Read

Billy Collins, U.S. Poet Laureate, Reads "Names"

This Global Read with Billy Collins was held September 11, 2020.

Billy Collins read his poem, “The Names”, on this program, to commemorate the anniversary of the 9/11 catastrophe. Mr. Collins also read some of his other poetry as a gift to the audience.



MNagler Collins’s level of fame is almost unprecedented in the world of contemporary poetry: his readings regularly sell out, and he received a six-figure advance when he moved publishers in the late 1990s. He served two terms as the US poet laureate, from 2001-2003, was New York State poet laureate from 2004-2006, and is a regular guest on National Public Radio programs. In 2002, as US poet laureate, Collins was asked to write a poem commemorating the first anniversary of the fall of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11. The reading was in front of a joint session of Congress held outside of Washington, DC.

John Taylor noted that Collins’s skillful, smooth style and inventive subject matter “helps us feel the mystery of being alive.” Taylor added: “Rarely has anyone written poems that appear so transparent on the surface yet become so ambiguous, thought-provoking, or simply wise once the reader has peered into the depths.” Mary Jo Salter commented that Collins’s “originality derives, it seems, from the marriage of a loopy, occasionally surreal imagination … to an ordinary life observed in just a few ordinary words.” She added that “one appeal of the typical Collins poem is that it’s less able to help you memorize it than to help you to remember, for a little while anyway, your own life.” 

Collins has described himself as “reader conscious”: “I have one reader in mind, someone who is in the room with me, and who I’m talking to, and I want to make sure I don’t talk too fast, or too glibly. Usually I try to create a hospitable tone at the beginning of a poem. Stepping from the title to the first lines is like stepping into a canoe. A lot of things can go wrong.” Collins further related: “I think my work has to do with a sense that we are attempting, all the time, to create a logical, rational path through the day. To the left and right there are an amazing set of distractions that we usually can’t afford to follow. But the poet is willing to stop anywhere.”

About the Host


Billy was interviewed by Olivia Sears

Olivia is a poet and translator of Italian poetry, is founder of the Center for the Art of Translation and the journal Two Lines, which she edited for more than a decade. Recent translations include avant-garde poetry by three women poets from the past 100 years, currently appearing in A Public Space and Chicago Literary Review. She is a graduate of Yale University and earned a doctorate in Italian literature from Stanford University.







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