Introduction: The Pleasure Poetry Gives Us

Billy Collins

Lesson time 3:17 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.

As a 90 year-old, I found this class very interesting. It encouraged me to write some poems.

Billy Collins' Masterclass was as inspiring as it was instructive. He really focused on the creative process, and the experience of writing more than the technical aspects of it, which for me, was an excellent way to get past the intimidating first step of diving in.

I am not a young prodigy or a middle-aged fumferer. I am an old dude who loves poetry. Now I'm inspired to keep writing. Thanks, Billy.

Reinforced that I stay true to myself in writing in my own unique style and voice. And to get with it, read more, and write more!


Steve O.

Lovely...starting in a familiar place and winding up in conceptually unhinged places...

Aaron J.

Guy is not a poet. He's a professor of poetry. You can't learn to be a poet from a professor of poetry. This is a class in how to be a professor. Please make the necessary adjustments to the title.

Lisa G.

I loved this lesson. I met Billy Collins many years ago when we lived in the same town in NY. He would often come into the cafe where I worked to get coffee and a muffin (blueberry) and I was awestruck but had enough audacity to bend his ear about poetry, ask his advice and opinions, and bore him with the grandeur of my own poetic pursuits. It was quite a lovely friendship and I still count as treasured items the several books he gave me, including an inscribed broadsheet of Dancing Towards Bethlehem; a poem both achingly sad yet hopeful. Billy is this amazingly accessible amalgam of wry, witty neighbor, snarky observer of all around him, and knock-your-socks off erudite , cerebral dynamite. Overall, he is a delight and I am SO happy to once again cross paths with this Poet's warm, wise, words...wonderful imagination, and mellifluous voice. Yes, Billy. I have been told I'm a bit fast and loose with the alliteration! I'm entering a poetry contest and am still in the process of whittling down the hundreds I have composed over the years to a mere five. How does one choose favorites? Especially because I never have written poetry to impress a single soul. But there is a modest grand prize (500.00) which is always helpful, and the opportunity to be published. That is a dear, dear dream. I hope by some stroke of Irish luck you are reading this, Billy. New York misses you and so do I! ~ Lisa O'Neil Guerci, Carmel NY

Kuya M.

History of the human heart/mind. I love surprises and this intro is a teaser for so many surprises. Surprise journey from Kansas to Oz, from mundane to extraordinary and back again, transformed. I'm 73 and thinking a lot about time, time behind the moment, time following the moment, time is existence flow. Being time, having enough time for the time being. The intro intrigued me, invited me challenged me to read poetry with an alive mind and to take my time when doing so. Thank you.

Manuel M.

Many years ago, as a shy undergraduate, I asked the poet Eric Barker, in a reading of his poetry, what distinguishes poetry from prose to which he said, "Prose speaks to the mind, while poetry speaks to the heart." Thinking back to that nervous moment over 50 years ago when I raised my hand in the auditorium and asked my question, I nearly fell out of my chair when I heard Billy Collins say that poetry is the history of the human heart. What an exciting introduction to this class!

Kaerla F.

The pleasure of the dance. Oh, yes - and "the history of the human heart".

A fellow student

Nice intro to his perception of poetry. I especially love the description of poetry as the history of the human heart.

Faith M.

History of the Human Heart Romance of Time Underneath We're all after the same things

James R.

I especially love the way Billy Collins renders his ideas as accessible and unassuming. I've always seen poetry as a clearer reduction of everyday life and thought, and his style with words rings true.

John S.

I have been writing poetry for a few years now and have performed it in public several times, reading my work to a variety of audiences. I have yet to memorize one of my poems, but am now strongly considering it. I think I'd have a greater impact on my audience if I did. Collins suggests that such memorization helps the poet develop a companionship with his or her work, a form of pleasure. I concur.