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Billy Collins: the poet of pettiness. By: Robert annen, maggie wadley, deanna lee. Information. Born March 22, 1941 in New York, New York Only child Dad- William Collins – Electrician Mom- Katherine Collins– Nurse Attended parochial schools Married Diane Radio appearance

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Billy collins the poet of pettiness

Billy Collins:the poet of pettiness

By: Robert annen, maggie wadley, deanna lee


  • Born March 22, 1941 in New York, New York

  • Only child

  • Dad- William Collins – Electrician

  • Mom- Katherine Collins– Nurse

  • Attended parochial schools

  • Married Diane

  • Radio appearance

  • Lots of Catholic Schooling

  • Popularity boosted because publisher argument

Billy collins writing style
Billy Collins Writing Style

  • Laid-back

  • First person

  • Casual

  • Everyday life

  • Distaste for Poetry in code

  • Contemporary poet

  • Poems have surprise endings

  • Sarcastic / Humorous

  • Conversational and witty poems


  • Got B.A. from College of the Holy Cross in 1963

  • Got Ph.D. from University of California, Riverside, 1971

  • Taught at Lehman College of the City University of New York

  • Became an English Professor

  • Writer-in-residence at Sarah Lawrence College

  • Founder of Poetry 180 project


  • Received Poetry Fellowships from:

    • New York Foundation for the Arts

    • National Endowment for the Arts

    • Guggenheim Foundation

  • Received:

    • Bess Hokin Award (1990)

    • Ocar Blumenthal Award

    • Frederick Bock Prize (1992)

    • Levinson Prize (1995)

    • J. Howard and Barbara M.J. Wood Prize (1999)


  • Inspired by Emily Dickinson

  • By mother

  • “The New Poetry”

  • John Keats

  • Cole Ridge

  • Jazz music


  • 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.

  • Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye

  • and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,

  • and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

  • something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,

  • the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

  • Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,

  • it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,

  • not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

  • It has floated away down a dark mythological river

  • whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,

  • well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those

  • who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

  • No wonder you rise in the middle of the night

  • to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.

  • No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted

  • out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Taking off emily dickinson s clothes
“Taking off emilydickinson’sclothes”

Later, I wrote in a notebook

it was like riding a swan into the night,

but, of course, I cannot tell you everything -

the way she closed her eyes to the orchard,

how her hair tumbled free of its pins,

how there were sudden dashes

whenever we spoke.

What I can tell you is

it was terribly quiet in Amherst

that Sabbath afternoon,

nothing but a carriage passing the house,

a fly buzzing in a windowpane.

So I could plainly hear her inhale

when I undid the very top

hook-and-eye fastener of her corset

and I could hear her sigh when finally it was unloosed,

the way some readers sigh when they realize

that Hope has feathers,

that reason is a plank,

that life is a loaded gun

that looks right at you with a yellow eye.

  • First, her tippet made of tulle,

  • easily lifted off her shoulders and laid

  • on the back of a wooden chair.

  • And her bonnet,

  • the bow undone with a light forward pull.

  • Then the long white dress, a more

  • complicated matter with mother-of-pearl

  • buttons down the back,

  • so tiny and numerous that it takes forever

  • before my hands can part the fabric,

  • like a swimmer's dividing water,

  • and slip inside.

  • You will want to know

  • that she was standing

  • by an open window in an upstairs bedroom,

  • motionless, a little wide-eyed,

  • looking out at the orchard below,

  • the white dress puddled at her feet

  • on the wide-board, hardwood floor.

  • The complexity of women's undergarments

  • in nineteenth-century America

  • is not to be waved off,

  • and I proceeded like a polar explorer

  • through clips, clasps, and moorings,

  • catches, straps, and whalebone stays,

  • sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.

The art of drowning
“The Art of drowning”

  • I wonder how it all got started, this business

  • about seeing your life flash before your eyes

  • while you drown, as if panic, or the act of submergence,

  • could startle time into such compression, crushing

  • decades in the vice of your desperate, final seconds.

  • After falling off a steamship or being swept away

  • in a rush of floodwaters, wouldn't you hope

  • for a more leisurely review, an invisible hand

  • turning the pages of an album of photographs-

  • you up on a pony or blowing out candles in a conic hat.

  • How about a short animated film, a slide presentation?

  • Your life expressed in an essay, or in one model photograph?

  • Wouldn't any form be better than this sudden flash?

  • Your whole existence going off in your face

  • in an eyebrow-singeing explosion of biography-

  • nothing like the three large volumes you envisioned.

  • Survivors would have us believe in a brilliance

  • here, some bolt of truth forking across the water,

  • an ultimate Light before all the lights go out,

  • dawning on you with all its megalithic tonnage.

  • But if something does flash before your eyes

  • as you go under, it will probably be a fish,

  • a quick blur of curved silver darting away,

  • having nothing to do with your life or your death.

  • The tide will take you, or the lake will accept it all

  • as you sink toward the weedy disarray of the bottom,

  • leaving behind what you have already forgotten,

  • the surface, now overrun with the high travel of clouds.


  • Considered the “most popular poet in America” – New York Times

Works cited
Works cited

  • “Billy Collins.” Critical Survey of Poetry of American Poets. 4th ed. 2011. Print.

  • Collins, Billy. Ballistics. New York: Random House, 2010. Print.

  • - - -. “Felicitous Spaces: An interview with U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins.” Interview by Alexandra De Kamp. Terra Incognita. N.p., 2002. Web. 21 Feb. 2012.

  • - - -. Horoscopes for the Dead. New York: Random House, 2011. Print.

  • - - -. Sailing Alone Around the Room. New York: Random House, 2001. Print.

  • - - -. The Trouble with Poetry. New York: Random House, 2005. Print.