A Poet's Journey

Billy Collins

Lesson time 11:31 min

Billy invites you to join the club of poets who have been writing since the beginning of time.

Billy Collins
Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry
In his first-ever online class, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins teaches you how to find joy, humor, and humanity in reading and writing poetry.
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[MUSIC PLAYING] - Poetry kind of came to me very slowly. I wanted to be-- I wanted to be a poet ever since I was in high school. I just thought it would be great to be a poet. I don't know why. But-- and I started fooling around with words. My father, who was not a poetic type at all, his bookcase was either books on aviation, insurance, or golf instruction, that was about it. But for some reason or other Poetry Magazine came to his office in New York. And he knew I was interested in po-- interested in poetry when I was in high school. And he used to bring Poetry Magazine home to me. And I could read contemporary poetry. Now, in school I was reading school poetry. I was reading poems only by males. They had to be dead. They had beards. And they had three names. William Wadsworth Longfellow and all those guys, William Cullen Bryant. And they sounded like they were dead and had beards. And I thought, I'm-- I'm not dead and I can't grow a beard yet and I have just two names. So I'll never be a poet. But when my father brought home Poetry Magazine, I suddenly heard contemporary poetry. I heard people that felt like they were talking to me. There were many of them using the language of everyday life and with some jazz added to it. And I would go through these poems. And I really was too young to understand them. I'd be like 15 or 16. But I would see a couple of words together or a line that was just-- I don't know. It seemed cool, like, putting these words together that didn't quite belong together. And I would make a little mark, a little flag in the margin. So I was appreciating the poetic or the verbal sparks that a poem can give off, without really comprehending the poem-- the poems themselves. And so I began by fooling around with-- and I'm kind of-- without meaning to, I'm kind of quoting the poet Patrick Kavanaugh, the Irish poet, who said when it was asked how you became a poet, he said I-- I began by fooling around-- I started fooling around with words. And at some point, it became my life. As a young man, I wanted to be a poet, but I was-- it was-- it was aspirational wanting. I never thought I'd be one, really. I thought-- I didn't know what really, but I thought I'd probably-- maybe I'd write poems on the side. Maybe I'd just keep this little secret. Maybe I'd get published in the magazine. I thought maybe I'd have a book of poetry and it would sell 1,000 copies maybe and I could die a happy-- happy man, happy published poet. That's a big step for a poet. We have the phrase, yes he's a or she's a published poet. No one ever says she's a published novelist. If you write-- wrote novels and you never got published, well, you're kind of writing them for your own sake. Or-- but there are lots of unpublished poets and to cross that line and to get a book of poems-- for-- my first two books where little chap books by a fly by night presses that have disappeared. My first book in fact is called "Poker Face." And...

Let imagination lead the way

Known for his wit and wisdom, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins is one of America’s most beloved contemporary poets. In his MasterClass, Billy teaches you to appreciate the emotional pull of poetry. Learn his approach to exploring subjects, incorporating humor, and finding your voice. Discover the profound in the everyday, and let poetry lead you to the unexpected.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

This is just incredible! Such a deep emotional shake! Thank you Billy Collins for sharing your knowledge and guiding us through your world of poetry...

Insightful, practical, challenging, and most of all thoroughly enjoyable.

The humility with which he preaches the art and wisdom that Billy Collins imparts, are only two out of the many many reasons why I loved this Masterclass. I have learnt more about the craft of poetry than I thought I would. I can only wish that my own poetic voice could be half as vibrant as that of Billy Collins! :)

I loved Billy Collins' MasterClass. I thought all of the topics were really interesting and I loved that he brought it Marie Howe and student poets. I do wish that there were "assignments" or challenges/prompts of some sort. I think this could have been a great way to engage with the content Billy was sharing, and even to share work with other students in the community forum.



I think it would be great if he could do a second masterclass. Maybe on how to submerge in the world of poetry? Talk about poets, their poems and interpretations throughout history... And having Marie as guest was wonderful, maybe she could be a part of the class again?


It was very enjoyable. I love the way he talks, how he illustrates his ideas with words, and it was inspiring. Honestly, I found it a lot more useful than I thought it would be, I thought it might be very difficult to transmit knowledge on this topic, but he did it wonderfully. Thank you for such a nice work.


I liked it very much... children’s poetry ..piles of .. have been the comfy place of my brain .. but now feel my book of special moments could be what you are working with here .. Thank you so much Layne


I really enjoyed hearing from Mr. Collins. He has inspired me to continue to write and has confirmed that my work is worthy of being read. My work is truly a 'history of my heart' so it is very emotional even when I read it years later. I want to expand my subject matter.

Doug L.

This has been a terrific course! I hadn't been too familiar with Mr. Collins' work and I really enjoyed it. I particularly appreciated the idea and focus on the 'turn' in a poem - I don't always do that with mine, and when I do I don't always know I'm doing it. I tried one last night, with this set of courses in mind: The Squirrel, up at Free Range Poetry (dot com). I will certainly recommend this to my other poet friends! Thank you Mr. Collins and MasterClass! -dpl


I’ve been dabbling in poetry for a few years on my own here and there. Recently a friend has inspired me to play more, so I’m practicing writing a versed observation every day. I have zero training in poetry and wasn't even sure if I am doing it right. Plenty of years of word-play with letter-writing and creative thoughts, exchanging letters with friends. Plus I’m good at alliteration, making up words and distilling thoughts down to an essence. I am trying to read more poems by professionals and published poets to get a feel for rhythms and pacing. I was gifted full-access MasterClasses, one of them is this course on poetry. I finished it last night. Seems I am on the right track and pretty much getting all the elements in the right places. I’m lucky because Billy Collins (actually, I’d never heard of him…stumbled on his TED Talk) is also a free-form poet. The MasterClass is not details on *how* to write poems, but more on finding voice, style, inspirations, selecting for cadence, letting ideas drift from strong beginnings to surprise endings, observing details and focusing. Poems are supposed to make people *feel* something! Question: Is there a venue here for people to submit a sample of their work for feedback critiques? Is that what the "attachment" box below is for?

Tracey C.

What a gift...I felt that surge of growth. I was immersed, inspired! Thank you Mr. Collins ~

Allan A.

Thank you for sharing this biographical sketch. I want to print-out the transcript of this lesson and keep it where I can reread it frequently.

Patrick M.

Wonderful insights, without pretense, but with warm encouragement to be the poet only I can be. Thank you


There are bits of wisdom in what Mr Collins does, for life, work, and more, that go far beyond writing poetry, but I suppose that's the point. Thank you, really a wonderful journey.