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Billy Collins

in conversation with Naomi Shihab Nye

Recorded July 16th, 2020

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Billy Collins is an American phenomenon.  No poet since Robert Frost has managed to combine high critical acclaim with such broad popular appeal. Dubbed “the most popular poet in America” by Bruce Weber in the New York Times, Billy is famous for conversational, witty poems that welcome readers with humor but often slip into quirky, tender or profound observation on the everyday, reading and writing, and poetry itself.

Billy’s new collection,  Whale Day: And Other Poems, brings together more than fifty poems and showcases his mixing of the playful and the serious that has made him one of our country’s most celebrated and widely read poets. Here are poems that leap with whimsy and imagination, yet stay grounded in the familiar, common things of everyday experience. Collins takes us for a walk with an impossibly ancient dog, discovers the original way to eat a banana, meets an Irish spider, and even invites us to his own funeral. Available beginning September 29, 2020, Whale Day: And Other Poems builds on and amplifies Billy’s reputation as one of America’s most interesting and durable poets.

Billy’s level of fame is almost unprecedented in the world of contemporary poetry: 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 NPR programs. His work has appeared in a variety of periodicals including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The American Scholar. He is a Guggenheim fellow and a New York Public Library “Literary Lion.” His last three collections of poems have broken sales records for poetry. His readings are usually standing room only, and his audience – enhanced tremendously by his appearances on National Public Radio – includes people of all backgrounds and age groups. Born in New York City, he has taught at Columbia, Sarah Lawrence, SUNY Stonybrook, and Lehman College/CUNY.

Billy Collins live poetry on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BillyCollinsPoetry

Naomi Shihab Nye describes herself as a “wandering poet.” She has spent 40 years traveling the country and the world to lead writing workshops and inspiring students of all ages. Nye was born to a Palestinian father and an American mother and grew up in St. Louis, Jerusalem, and San Antonio. Drawing on her Palestinian-American heritage, the cultural diversity of her home in Texas, and her experiences traveling in Asia, Europe, Canada, Mexico, and the Middle East, Nye uses her writing to attest to our shared humanity.

Naomi is the author and/or editor of more than 30 volumes. Her current book, Cast Away: Poems for our Time was published in February, 2020. Her next book will be Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems to be released September, 2020.

Her fiction for young people include Habibi, Going Going, There Is No Long Distance Now, and The Turtle of Oman. The Turtle of Oman was chosen a Horn Book Best Book of 2014, a 2015 Notable Children’s Book by the American Library Association, and was awarded the 2015 Middle East Book Award for Youth Literature. Her picture books include Baby Radar, Sitti’s Secrets, and Famous.

Naomi has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Witter Bynner Fellow (Library of Congress). She has received a Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, four Pushcart Prizes, and the Robert Creeley Prize among others. In 2011, she won the Golden Rose Award given by the New England Poetry Club, the oldest poetry reading series in the country. Her collection 19 Varieties of Gazelle was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Her work has been presented on National Public Radio on A Prairie Home Companion and The Writer’s Almanac. She has been featured on two PBS poetry specials including “The Language of Life with Bill Moyers” and also appeared on NOW with Bill Moyers. She has been affiliated with The Michener Center for writers at the University of Texas at Austin for 20 years and also poetry editor at The Texas Observer for 20 years.

Naomi is Chancellor Emeritus for the Academy of American Poets, a laureate of the 2013 NSK Neustadt Award for Children’s Literature, and in 2017 the American Library Association presented her with the 2018 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award. In 2018 the Texas Institute of Letters awarded her the Lon Tinkle Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 2019 she was named Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. In 2020 she was awarded the Ivan Sandrof Award for Lifetime Achievement by the National Book Critics Circle. Nye is Professor of Creative Writing – Poetry at Texas State University.

Get ready to join Billy in conversation, Thursday, July 16.

In the meantime, we invite you to take a moment now to help shape this upcoming conversation:

Check out the list of questions submitted by other registered attendees, and then vote to support any of the ones that match your own interests.

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  • 6

    votes

    Who are some of your favorite authors, whether fiction or non-fiction, and have they influenced your writing?

  • 6

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    Are there any topics you stray away from writing about?

  • 5

    votes

    What is the last thing you read that has moved you?

  • 3

    votes

    Do you think of your poems as “American” in some clearly discernible way?

  • 3

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    Do poets have a responsibility to write about political issues?

  • 2

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    You once said “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”. How do you think you developed this sense of momentum?

  • 2

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    What is the role of humor in poetry?

  • 2

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    If you had to pick three poems written by others to recommend to new readers of poetry, which poems would you choose?

  • 1

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    What are some things that teachers can do to develop a love (or at least an appreciation) for poetry?

  • 1

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    In addition to your poetry I am a great admirer of your writings about poetry; essays, introductions to several books, etc. I’ve tried to track down as many items as I can (via Google, YouTube, and so on). Is there any plan to published a collected volume of these works?

  • 1

    votes

    You’ve defined “finding your voice” as when the poet recognizes a poem to be one that only the poet could have written. Can you tell us about the first time you experienced this feeling? That you recognized a piece as a genuinely, and uniquely “Billy Collins poem”?

  • 1

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    What drove you to start writing poetry?

  • 1

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    What do you think about a long poem books, like Eugene Onegin? Have you ever wanted to write one? And can you recommend any minimalist poets?

  • 0

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    What was the first poem you ever published?

  • 0

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    How did you develop your curiosity and the ability to be here in the moment as you write?

  • 0

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    What do you consider the best poem you ever wrote

  • 0

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    What was the first poem you ever wrote? How old were you? And what did it do to you?