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

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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.

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

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.

I don't know if it has improved what I can do ... I haven't done enough of it yet to have a comparison... I enjoyed the class, the descriptions of the process. I will have to find out how effective this was by doing.


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.

Anjali V.

I was so inspired by this lesson I just had to try my hand at internal rhymes. This is what I got. Wrote it for my little niece. Wish I could share it with him as well!

Tauna S.

I can't get past the second line of most poetry if it lacks rhyme, meter, alliteration metaphor, simile, onomatopoeia, or musicality, something, otherwise it might as well be prose. No, it isn't even prose if it lacks one or more of those. It might as well be a menu in a fish restaurant when I am allergic to fish.

Kasy L.

This was a really interesting lesson about rhyme and sound. I prefer free verse poetry, but I enjoyed what Billy said about creating trust in your readers. We trust formal poetry because we know what to expect. It's harder to gain that trust in free verse. Great lesson!

Mary J.

Naturally Shakespeare does both. Back to the last line of Sonnet 73, where he uses alliteration to hold the line together even though it also has iambic pentameter and an end rhyme: love/leave/long, "that well which thou" - beautiful strings of sound.

Michele H.

Really enjoyed learning about using internal versus end rhyme, the discussion on meter usage, and why Whitman used anaphora. The Hayden poem is beautiful; deceptively simple. The clumping of the consonant sounds in the first stanza sounds jammy, like someone huddled under the covers on a cold morning unwilling to get out of bed. The poem's wording flows a bit better, seems to relax a little as the boy/man awakens. Really lovely.

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.