From Billy Collins's MasterClass

A Poet's Journey

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

Topics include: Getting Published · The Road You Choose · The Club You Join


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

Topics include: Getting Published · The Road You Choose · The Club You Join

Billy Collins

Teaches 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.

I liked the lessons which are about finding the nuances and quirks in the stories inside the poem, and the resonances in modern life.

I enjoyed this class. I've always liked Billy Collins' poetry reading on the Prairie Home Companion. Among my favorites are: The Lanyard, The Revenant and another that I forget the name of but it has Buddha helping to shovel the driveway and serving hot chocolate at the end. Love that one!

This has been my favorite Master Class so far, because it focuses most directly on my personal creative aspirations. He is a great teacher.

I'm far from finished. I LOVE Billy Collins' poetry.. his voice calls to me... so far I enjoy him talking to 'ME" had to 'break for awhile'... but .


Pateicia R.

This lesson was valuable in learning the phases Collins experienced and I found he needed to live up to his higher standard or his best, This awareness caused me to rewrite, shorten and find better metaphors. Also to vizualze my reader helped direct me to what he got from my words which then I'd select more carefully. I now will let myself be inspired by other poets borrowing what I found might give my poems the same intimate, human, humorous, knowing punch I find in his. I wished there were more and longer sessions.

Stephanie B.

I liked it but you never let me finish my comments. I have more to say about the class as a whole!

A fellow student

I appreciate all sessions but wish, even as a white woman, that there had been diversity. I love Collins' poetry and wish it had even touched the facts of our culture, that when a man or woman sees creative work by a woman, it is given a lower rating than that of a man. True in art, where paintings by women get 42% financial rewards than men. Again, not that money is a judge, but it pays the rent and till we evolve, pays respect.

Jerry D.

This wonderful course was recommended by Mr. Collins, possibly to keep me from stalking him at the Sonoma Authors Festival, after seeing him in Sun Valley in 2017 and Sonoma in 2018 and '19. Though taking the course will not get this 88 year old to the ranks of published poet, it has added another dimension to my existence.

Michael S.

I loved the class and the easy, conversational tone of your presentation. I've read a few of your books, so accessible and intimate but you also taught me to appreciate the wider world of other forms of poetry. Thank you.

Jane C.

I loved all the sessions. For some unexplainable reason I began paying attention to poetry, scribbling down notes and forming them into poems a few years ago. They sit in my file cabinet. One thing I discovered is you can experience a personal high by creating something even if it is not particularly good. Listenening to Mr. Collins’ classes was enlightening, plus he has a distinctive, pleasant voice.

glenn B.

Excellent classes. Wish there was some explanation on lines that start in the center or right of center rather than left justified. Don't understsnd how that works. Thank you.

Carol B.

Billy, in the preface of your book, The Apple that Astonished Paris, you write that you laid the poems returned by Mr Williams out on a table and could tell what He'd found in the better poems that was NOT in the lesser ones. Could you share what that element was? That self-discovery, or analytical awareness, is intriguing to me!

Dawn B. D.

I loved, loved, loved, this class! I always thought poetry was kind of strange and hard to understand let alone write. In other words, I had no connection to it. But with Billy's introduction to the course I thought it would be fun to learn about something I didn't understand nor have much interest. And now I am playing with writing my own poetry. Billy you converted me completely. I believe in poetry and want to start reading it. I even know of a group I can join to immerse myself. Thank-you so much for opening the door for me.

Jody L.

It's important to hear--rejections should not be taken personally. We have no idea why an unknown reader or editor said "No" that day. There will always be more rejections than acceptances. Just keep writing as best you can!