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.

What an opportunity to listen to a professional whose work I admire so much! I enjoyed every lesson... and bringing in Marie Howe and several students added value and perspective. This was my first Master Class and I am excited to explore other stimulating and inspiring presentations.

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

The simplicity of Billy Collins ability to communicate clearly key components of poetry are very encouraging and inviting. Most importantly, his personal style - confident and humble make for an immediate welcoming into the topic, the class. It was information, inspirational, and insightful. Thank you!

Collins offers an accessible path to reading and writing poetry. The task seems doable when it's broken down into friendly pieces. The class has given me ideas about how to approach poetry writing as well as channels through which I can teach poetry writing to high school students.


Rena O.

This was very helpful. Many ideas and gave me the confidence to find my voice. The confidence to not worry some of my poems may be thrown in the bin! And to experiment. All done in a gentle, humorous manner. I liked his listening and promoting the students. He advised one word difference and what a difference it made. Please can we have more poetry masters?

Suzanne F.

Truly love the tutorial and insight to a published poetic world, thanks Billy

Kasy L.

Thank you for this wonderful class. It was very insightful with bits of good humor. I learned a lot!

Donna G.

I enjoy poetry, but have always enjoyed Mr. Collins' poetry most of all. Thank you for providing this series so that I can work with various segments at home to work to improve my poetry, have fun with it, and hope that my audience will take pleasure in it as well.

A fellow student

Thank you for a fascinating series full of good humor, sincerity, insight and a wee bit of whimsy ~ marvelous!

Kate C.

Thank you--this was a wonderful class. I have been a big fan of yours for a long time but was unfamiliar with Marie Howe. Thanks for having her participate.

Victoria H.

I did you what you said with work of Frank Ohara and I ended up writing a really good poem, echoing his poem. He is now one of my favorite poets:0)

Victoria H.

Bill you are brilliant "good work will always float to the top" VERY TRUE. I think I am a middle age prodigy. I love how you don't just rush to blame it on the work, when it comes to rejection. I know what you are saying is true, cause my mentor who is a well educated poet and manages a school for poetry, approved the poems I submitted, and my audience love the poems, and they all said they were very good, yet they got rejected. lol. Now some of them didn't get rejected. So you just never know.

Victoria H.

I never got an MFA in writing and have no interest. I do poetry courses on line and have completed two poetry mentorships at a private school for poetry. I also teach myself and did for a while before I ever, took a class and was also published in print. I also started by playing with words. I started off reading poets totally different than how I write,they were all the wrong poets for my particular persona that was waiting to have the whole masked peeled off.

Kaerla F.

Again, this was less a lesson and more Mr. Collins using his experiences to encourage us - and the reason this helped is because Mr. Collins finally says "why" writers and poets should not take it personally when their work is rejected. So often we are simply told "Don't take it personally," but then it's just left at that. Why? Why shouldn't I take it personally? This short story or this poem is a part of me, and someone's said they don't like it, and that hurts. Saying "You shouldn't take it personally and here's why," makes it easier to not take a rejection personally, because you are shown precisely why the rejection isn't personal. You're not being asked to just blindly believe that something is so, which leaves too much room for self-doubt. The concrete "These are some reasons why. They literally have nothing to do with you personally." closes the window in the face of self-doubt, and that is such a relief.