Sound Pleasures

Billy Collins

Lesson time 14:43 min

Learn the tools beyond rhyme and meter that Billy utilizes to achieve a musical, toe-tapping kind of joy in his poetry.

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] - Until about 100 plus years ago, form meant basically two things. It just meant rhyme-- end rhyme, rhymes at the ends of lines-- and meter, a steady beat that would keep the poem stabilized and also would give the poem a kind of predictability. The reader would know the beat's going to continue. So when you read "Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though," " you pretty much can relax into the arms of Robert Frost because you know he's going to continue this know, blow, snow end rhyme. And he's going to keep this-- what's a tetrameter beat, four beats to the line-- he's going to keep that going. And that little engine of the meter is going to continue until the end. So if there's a predictability in it, and immediately, you're kind of oriented to the rest of the poem. You don't know what the poem's going to actually say, but you feel at ease in the hands of the poet. I was giving a reading at a school somewhere recently, and we had the question and answer session at the end. And there was a little girl, about seven or eight years old, in the front row with her mother, who was a fairly agitated young creature. And so I let her have the last question. And she said, "How come your poems don't rhyme?" She was used to nursery rhymes and younger poetry. And there was another occasion when I was giving a reading in England in kind of a rural town there, a man stood up in worsted, heavy tweed jacket, and said, "How come all your poems are written in prose?" And if this had been Oscar Wilde, I would have been devastated. But he basically was missing the same thing that the young girl was missing. He was missing this song, the song-like quality of regular rhyme and constant meter. And those are sound pleasures and toe-tapping kind of pleasure. The pleasure of the dance and the pleasure of the musicality. And why shouldn't poetry have those? Well, it can have them still, but in a less concentrated and a less predictable way. [MUSIC PLAYING] Whitman was the first poet to take regular meter and end rhyme away, so both of the training wheels that kept poetry going were removed. Well, guess what? The bicycle kept going. And it started the debate in the 1850s about whether "Song of Myself," Whitman's long poem, whether that was poetry or not. And one rather Prussian professor said, "If this is not poetry, it is something greater than poetry," which is quite a piece of literary criticism. I think Whitman had a general radical vision of himself as a poet. He was a great self-advertiser. His picture on his book is of a rough. He's outdoors. He's got his slouched hat. His shirt is open. It's not the formal, indoor, conservative literary portrait that most poets would have then. So as part of his radical sense of himself as a liberator-- sexual and social-- I think he thought of himself as a liberator of the regularity of formal verse. But he knew that he had to put something in if...

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.

Billy Collins is funny and accessible and knows what he's talking about. I trust him.

This class immediately inspired me to write more poems, to read what I've written in the past, to look for my voice. Thanks, Billy Collins

Great class. I'm going to look for books of poetry right now. And I have his recent collection at home.

Billy Collins is such a warm, generous teacher. I found the techniques he shared to be very helpful for my craft, and took simple pleasure in listening in on his conversations with other poets.


Yogesh K.

Very much enjoyed this class! Thank you, Billy Owens! BTW, I searched for the "Poetry, Pleasure, and the Hedonist Reader" online and couldn't find it.

A fellow student

I love this class! But one thing this guy can’t do, is reading poems out loud, everything sounds boring when he reads it :)))

A fellow student

Our hedgehog is great. He’s slowing fiwn enough to notice me. I miss our parrots. I wasn’t writing poetry when we had them but they did respond to singing and musical instruments.


Sorry, but I quiet desagree, my black cat is my first and best critic. I always read my poems aloud and the best way for me is, to walk round while reading. Perhaps the movement helps me to find out, if the rhythm feels good.

Jamie M.

ps. i think this is such an important way to edit - through being attentive to speech rhythms and sorting through the sound and cadence

Jamie M.

this lesson is completely brilliant. 'knowing and not knowing is a very pleasurable state of consciousness' i like the idea of rhyme and meter being training wheels and when Whitman took them away the bicycle kept going

Leslie K.

I cried at the Shakespeare sonnet and discussion. Or, should I say I was profoundly moved. Or, should I just say, forty years with one person.....well

Denise T.

I absolutely LOVE this lesson, and I love Collins' extremely dry, dead-pan sense of humor! I would love to sit down with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) and talk about life with him. Side note: I named my daughter CADENCE (she is 17) because of my love of poetry, and if I am being totally honest, because my husband is a cyclist; rhythm is just a part of life :)

Kaerla F.

I loved this lesson, as rhyme is less important to me than a work's overall flow and rhythm. Jed Barlet from The West Wing can read the words of Toby Zeigler and Sam Seaborn - already first cousins to poetry in and of themselves - and clothe them in a glamour that makes people believe that what he's saying is, indeed, poetry itself, because of cadence, because of sound, because of speech rhythms. This is the important part of writing poetry, to me. Ditch the metronome - that monotonous, tired out thing - and give me instead a river's flow that tumbles over rocks within itself, that rushes, and eddies, and even falls, in places. I loved this lesson.

Maureen W.

Exquisite, of course. But I only have a mere high school education and had to find the reference to "Volta/turn" in the lexicon of poetic terms. I was familiar with the equestrian term "demi-volt" and the French fencing term "demi volte" but alas, at 74, I'm slow at making connections and I am playing catch up with you real poets. Despite my little complaint of being ignorant--I have been thrilled at being talked to like an intelligent woman. Thank you.