Finding Your Voice: Influences

Billy Collins

Lesson time 11:33 min

Your voice lies on the shelves of the library and the bookstore. Learn how reading the work of other poets will help develop your unique persona.

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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- The sense is that your voice lies somewhere within you, and the need to interrogate and examine yourself and see what's somewhere down connected with your personal authenticity as a human being. Once you connect with that through introspection, the poems will just fly out of you. That's all wrong. Your voice has an external source. It does not lie within you. It is not in-dwelling. It lies on the shelves of the library and the shelves of the bookstore. Your voice is in the voices of other poets. And you will develop a voice by copying, imitating, lifting from some of these other poets. Personally speaking, I learned intimacy from Whitman. His poem "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" is one of the most intimate examples of that in his work where he puts his art-- you can almost feel his arm on your shoulder. He's pointing to the seagulls and the water. As I was here, you will stand here. It's quite amazing that he has this kind of-- creates this brotherhood with the reader. From Emily Dickinson, you can learn elliptical writing where you can jump a little bit from one think to the other and getting rid of the connectives that kind of clutter up a poem that are best served in prose. From Frost, you can learn how to be gradual in playing out the meaning of the poem and also how to be cagey and leave ambiguities in the poem. From Frost, you can certainly learn the craft of rhyme and meter. And I think if you come up-- if you hear a poet with an original voice-- or let's just say a fresh voice, that poet-- what you're really hearing are the voices of several poets that have been combined in such an ingenious way that you can't trace them back to the sources. [MUSIC PLAYING] You won't be a poet unless you experience literary jealousy. Professors call this literary influence, but it's felt as jealousy. If you are a poet and you're reading a poem for the first time and it's really good, and-- wait a minute, now it's getting even better. This is really good the way this is going. And then suddenly, you're not enjoying it anymore, you're fixated by it. And the ending is a mind-blower and then you say, if I had only done that. If I could just get some white out and get rid of his name and put my name down there, I'd be so happy about my self esteem. One way to just advance behind a state of immobilized jealousy and do something that might have practical application and improvement on your own poetry would be to take the poet you seem to be envying and one of her or his poems and read it over and over again-- kind of looking at how they went about it. If you notice that there's a movement in the poem-- like a surprising change-- that he was talking about one thing, now suddenly he seems to be talking about another thing-- or he was addressing you and starts addressing it as an individual-- some shift, you might look at that shift for what it is and see, what happened there? And can you make a turn like that in your own poetry? Or, let's s...

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 am a teacher and wanted to hear some tips from Billy Collins and how he teaches poetry. He does mention a few tips that I can share. Thanks.

This class has heartened me. Billy has a wonderful, warm manner that encourages you and practical suggestions well explained. I didn't learn anything new but he reminded me of methods I hadn't used on a while and gave me hope.

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’ve been inspired to be more consistent. I’m concerned because I have many interests and a very full life. I think I can commit to a haiku/day. Love love Billy Collins as a teacher and will listen to the class again.


Joanell S.

It’s refreshing to hear about the jealousy! And I simply love Billy Collins teaching style.

Victoria H.

I have collected some images from my kitchen and wrote a poem using them and the poem placed on a short list in contest. I love using some of the first parts of a structure of another poem, and then seeing where I want to take it. I m actually writing my own now using Philip Larkens poem "The Mower" My poem is not as short and of course quite different with my images.

Kaerla F.

This is what we did in my Poetry classes at school: study other poets, then use a piece of their work as a template for our own. It's nice to see this process replicated across ... the country? the medium? I'm not sure what word to use here.

Victoria H.

I notice in the poem "The Mower" he is taking leaps and extending certain parts as well time jumping, like you mentioned in a past lesson. I have found my way into a poem using his poem and the poem is coming along nicely. I will be studying Philips poems.

Victoria H.

I got so jealous of Frank O'Hara's poems that I picked them apart and studied how each part work and then created two of my own, that my readers love😊. I am working on one right now that is inspired by one of his poems.

Victoria H.

Wow! I regularly study the poems of other poets. You are speaking of me Bill. I created my voice. You Bill, Charles Simic, William Carlos, Amy Lowell, Frank O'Hara and several others have influenced my work for some years now. My work is a blend of like ten different poets at least. My mentor and publishers say my work is distinctive. I will be reading the work of those poets you mentioned as well. This is great lesson. I often will pic a poem I really admire and then learn how it was put together and then write my own using it as a guide and as muse to find my own theme...etc. My poem usually changes structure at some points and other poets stop in. 😊. I love this lesson. I will be listening to it a few times.

Jill B.

I could have learned what he was teaching with another example than the hedgehog thank you. ~Animal lover

Michele H.

I wonder if that fragility of life is why so many physicians seem drawn to poetry- William Carlos Williams, Anton Chekov, Keats, Oliver Wendall Holmes, etc. I always thought WCW particularly seemed to reflect that sense well, coupled with modernism and its influences of the World Wars.


Thanks Billy, your class does add value, learning how 2 start simple is very useful, also ur take on influences n da beautyfull poems u write n read 2 us. There's one thing though I feel the need 2 openly disagree n that is everybody does have an inner voice! It is enriched by others work n many external stimuly, but it plays a unique rol in da creation process

Saurav N.

"Try to imitate the artist that inspire you in order to find your voice !" - true wisdom