From Billy Collins's MasterClass

Finding Your Voice: Influences

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.

Topics include: Finding Your Voice: Influences · Experiencing Literary Jealousy · Influences: “The Mower” by Philip Larkin · Influences: Samuel Taylor Coleridge


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.

Topics include: Finding Your Voice: Influences · Experiencing Literary Jealousy · Influences: “The Mower” by Philip Larkin · Influences: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Billy Collins

Teaches 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.

It's inspired me to do a live class in poetry

I will continue to re-read & re-listen to this class...just now scouring the used book stores for Billy's Books....Thanks for this Master Class

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

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.


Townsend S.

Thank you for sharing the poem by Larkin. This lesson has also increased my curiosity about Coleridge.


"We all came through Gogol's "Overcoat"" is familiar quote for a Slavic Language & Literature student...FM Dostoevsky is credited with the quote, however it could have come from any of the Petrashevsky Circle....What I appreciate about writers: novelists, poets, musicians, is how nicely a phrase or two fits at the beginning, middle or end of anything we happen to be writing....I am totally enjoying inviting Billy C. into my work space, feeling like we are sharing a cup of tea with every lesson... stanleydelGozo

Jody L.

I'm not sure I totally agree with where one's "voice" comes from, but of course it does come from reading other poets and authors. Perhaps it also comes from where I've grown up, which common usage and dialect formed my own language. I think someone who grew up in Brooklyn might write differently from someone from the Southwest. That gets into questions of word choice and setting.

Carol B.

Sir, you are explaining to me what I felt naturally compelled to do, but quit because it felt voyeuristic and wrong! Now I have a valid creative purpose for such analysis....PRACTICE! ;-)

Michael B.

This lesson is absolutely fantastic! Very few authors/poets delve into the process of finding your voice and this is a great lesson for doing so. Thank you, Mr. Collins!


Hey guys! MasterClass team here. Be sure to check out Billy Collins' community section on the MasterClass Community! It's where you can connect with other Billy Collins' students, share your work, get feedback and dive deeper into lesson discussions. Link here: