From Billy Collins's MasterClass

Sound Pleasures

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

Topics include: The Disappearance of Rhyme and Meter · How to Establish Trust With Your Reader · Speech Rhythms


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

Topics include: The Disappearance of Rhyme and Meter · How to Establish Trust With Your Reader · Speech Rhythms

Billy Collins

Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry

Learn More


[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.

It's inspired me to return to poetry after too many vacant years, and has given me some practical advice about ways to incorporate humor. Thanks, Billy Collins!

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

I enjoyed this class. I've always liked Billy Collins' poetry reading on the Prairie Home Companion. Among my favorites are: The Lanyard, The Revenant and another that I forget the name of but it has Buddha helping to shovel the driveway and serving hot chocolate at the end. Love that one!

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


A fellow student

One of the most interesting ideas in this lesson is that craft helps create the bond between writer and reader. Based on Collins' comments, it seems that writers have a sort of obligation to meet the reader's expectations of pattern. However, this concession can be subtle as pointed out in Hayden's poem. This reinforces the practice of studying poetry, as readers may not be aware of hidden patterns if the experience with a poem is superficial.

Nancy T.

Wonderful lesson. The subtle musicality of a line is just as important as a deliberate rhyme. Also, Billy's comment about the liturgical character of anaphora is proven in many Sunday morning sermons.

A fellow student

Probably the best of the lessons so far and Billy Collins as most himself: explaining in a simple, digestible way the whole controversy of meter and rhyme--what it's all about.

John S.

I enjoyed this segment especially so. I learned, for example, that Whitman made up for the absence of end rhyme by using anaphora, which engenders predictability within the reader as they move through a poem. Collins' suggestion that poets might consider revising their work by "making adjustments for sound" and "cadence" was also quite helpful. I hadn't previously thought about revising in those specific ways.

Alonna S.

"insistent voice gathers strength with these repetitions"; Every line"striking a commonality between him and the reader"; Trust allows a reader to enter and stay with the poem: via the older more traditional meter and end rhymes. A modern shift—"knowing and not knowing"—how can we compensate when writing more modern poetry? less predictable internal rhyme while still having a rhythm. (Revisions) He adjusts with speech rhythms (conversational), for sound (so it sounds better) and for cadence (making it run better).

Brian Carey C.

Haha! Loved the animals that are good audience members. I'm allergic to cats; so I'm in total agreement here.

Ana Maria S.

His straight-faced dissertation at the end about what animals were good to read to was killing me. (pause) "Fish are good." (straight face) /snork Love this man, love this class. I wonder how many pets he has and if the cat ignores him. ha

Michel O.

Seems like reading poetry to cats are fine. Just tested some poems out in the alley and they were excited in some bizarre ways.

Bob K.

They both are in error in the last lines.....Love more ......not love more things but love more intensely. And love more intensely because the writer is leaving not a “lover” but the world itself. Embrace the fleeting things.....God I love this course!

Townsend S.

Reading your poem aloud is terrific advice. I once determined, while reading aloud, that the final two stanzas of something I had written needed to be completely eliminated. (Unfortunately, I was reading it to a group of people when the sheer awfulness of the final two stanzas became apparent.)