Described by Bruce Weber in the New York Times as “the most popular poet in America, Billy Collins was born in 1941 and has in his lifetime so far been the US Poet Laureate from 2001-2003 and the New York State Poet Laureate from 2004-2006. Writing controversial, witty poems, he describes his own poetry as “suburban, domestic and middle class” – his level of fame is almost unprecedented in the world of contemporary poetry, with his readings regularly selling out and when he received a six figure advance sum for a three book deal when he moved publishers in the late 1990s the shock reverberated throughout the poetry world.
An only child, his mother was able to recite verses on almost any subject and this was something she did throughout Billy’s childhood, subconsciously instilling in the young Billy a love of both the written and spoken word which has continued throughout his life.
Receiving fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, it was his fourth book “Questions About Angels” published in 1991 that propelled him into the literary spotlight.
The critic, John Taylor, commented that Collins’ skilful, smooth style and innovative subject matter “helps us feel the mystery of being alive” and talks of how 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, reviewing his collection entitled Nine Horses Poems (2002) for the New York Times writes how one appeal of the typical Collins’ poem is that it’s less able to help you memorise it “than to help you to remember, for a little while anyway, you own life.”
Like Collins’ poem “Flames”, Denny Bradbury’s poem “Hare in the Moonlight” from her new collection, which comprises of sections that follow themes inspired by animals, the seasons, seascapes, spirituality and love, talks of a creature’s battle with man.
For Billy Collins, “Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes” published in 2000 was the first of his collections to be published outside the US and received great acclaim in the UK with poet and critic Michael Donaghy calling him a “rare amalgam of accessibility and intelligence”.
Collins himself says “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. 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.”