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Arts & Entertainment

Introduction: The Pleasure Poetry Gives Us

Billy Collins

Lesson time 03:39 min

Meet your new instructor: Billy Collins, one of the most popular and prolific poets of our time. In your first lesson, Billy introduces the many pleasures of poetry and illuminates how poetry connects you to the history of the human heart.

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] BILLY COLLINS: Of all the things poetry is, I think the most important thing it is, it provides us with a history of the human heart. We have lots of histories, of course. And we have history departments in universities. And we have histories about truces and about boundary disputes, and inventions, and wars. But poetry is really the only history we have of the human heart. And if you trace it back to the oldest poems we can find, at least in Western culture, starting with Catullus and moving up to today, they're all speaking the same language. All these poets are really wrestling with the same things. And they're wrestling with emotions of fear of death or embracing death, gratitude for what God has given them, loneliness, adventure, failure to assert oneself. They're all humans. Dante, Milton, Wordsworth, you see the same stuff in there. The language sounds very different. But underneath it all, we're all after the same thing. I'm Billy Collins. And this is my MasterClass. [MUSIC PLAYING] I wrote a piece some years ago called "Poetry, Pleasure, and the Hedonist Reader" in which I laid out pleasures that poetry gives us. I could mention some of them. There was the pleasure-- I call it the pleasure of the dance, which was the pleasure of the rhythms of the poem and how they modulate and affect your reading of it. The pleasure of sound, some would define poetry as words that mean more and sound better. The pleasure of travel, the pleasure of moving from one place in the poem to a different place, moving from a familiar place to an unfamiliar place, moving from Kansas to Oz. All right? Good metaphor for poems. You start in a very familiar place in Kansas and you end up in some wildly conceptual, unhinged places. And then there was also the pleasure of metaphoric connection, of poets coming up with wild comparisons and the enjoyment of seeing a new synapse kind of opened in your mind between two very unlikely things. The other pleasure was the pleasure of, I call it, the pleasure of companionship that comes from memorization. To memorize a poem is to internalize it. And you take it with you wherever you go. If you hold-- if you hold onto it, memorize it, it becomes a companion. Poetry is about time and especially what I would call the romance of time. And that's just another way of saying carpe diem. The romance of time means we're running out of it. All right? So and that's-- and so much poetry is a call to action-- all right-- and saying, live more. You know, get with it. Get your head out of the screen now, that kind of thing. Plunge in.

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 loved the course, lots of juicy inspiration, confirmation, encouragement and ways in...

Similar to a cooking class where the chef starts with cookware and cuts a sheet of paper with a chef's knife before actually cooking anything. Here we get the essentials up front and the actual poems appear later on. I thought at first that he was less energetic than I would have wanted, but the content of the class is compelling enough to make me listen without the need for commercial flair.

I would love to tell you what I've learned, but I am still sitting with the experience. Steeping the magic herbs, if you will. I suspect, though, given my thorough enjoyment and excitement to attend each class, that the learning is invaluable in my process of becoming the poet that I am to be.

By giving us his approach to writing, Billy Collins gave me some new ideas for how to approach my writing. His craft lessons were excellent. I loved the discussions with Marie Howe, Sarah Iqbal, and Paul Epland. Excellent! It has been a while since I've written poetry, and this class inspired me to get back to it.


Marie G.

Billy is so endearing and so knowledgeable and engaging. It feels so good to spend time with him and to learn about his love of poetry and writing.

Kimberly M.

I love your poetry, and I'm so excited to take your class. I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing you read some of your poems when I was a student at Ball State years ago. I'm ready to "plunge in!" :)

Nan R.

I loved this lesson. I've been waiting to take a class from Billy Collins since last year when i joined Mastercloass. However I am technoloogically challenged!! I am having difficulty Mastering this computer.My phone number is 412-794-8068. Could someone frrom Master class please call me? Thanks. Nan Rhody

Matthew M.

This lesson was short and sweet. Is the essay "Poetry, Pleasure and the Hedonist Reader" available online?

Beth K.

I love "the romance of time". This is exactly why I'm taking this class. Thank you!

Fred G.

This is a lovely introduction. I sense the excitement of embarking on the course, and the wisdom of having been there.

Nilce S.

Wonderful and inspiring introduction... brilliant destillation of the pleasures poems give us. Thanks for that.


So grateful to be jumping into this class. Even these few minutes are totally inspiring as a beginner writer & poet. Can't wait to see where this course takes me!


Thanks for this great introduction to the class. I love the concept of poetry being "a history of the human heart." The four pleasures hooked me. I'm excited for what is to come.

A fellow student

This intro succeeds in making me believe my instructor will be Billy Collins, not a computer program. Not everyone can convey warmth, humor, and personality while looking at a camera. He does.