Working With Form

Billy Collins

Lesson time 16:29 min

Billy teaches you how to use form to win the love of your readers, an audience of strangers.

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] - Let me start with a little anecdote. One day some years ago, my editor at Random House, Dan Menaker was walking down, let's say, Madison Avenue with the well-known "New Yorker" writer Roger Angell. And a pedestrian recognized Angell somehow and stopped him and went on to praise his writing, and gushing, and just the thing. And then they broke off. Angell caught up with my friend, Menaker And Angell said that's-- that's what it's all about. And Dan said, that's what what's all about? He said that's what writing is all about, the love of strangers. I think a lot of poetry begins as a secret and covert activity. I mean back in the day, as they say, there was the existence of the diary. And the diary was a little book of blank pages. And it was thought that at a certain age, young girls went up to their rooms and had feelings. Boys were too busy throwing stones at squirrels and doing what they do to have these feelings. And one feature of these diaries is that they had little golden-- they had locks on them and a little key. And the lock was usually in the shape of a heart, a little golden heart. Why? Because these were your feelings you were expressing. That's the heart shape. Why the lock? Well, they were private. You didn't want your-- god forbid-- your big brother should look into your diary. You might say, cutting ahead, that poems are the expressions of thoughts and feelings but they're no longer embarrassing. So poetry is sort of a diary without the lock, a diary that you want people to read. But when one is conjuring an audience, one has to admit that it's an audience of strangers. The strangers that, as Angell said, you want to fall in love with you. [MUSIC PLAYING] There's a way to get readers interested. And the way-- and we'll talk about this expansively, I think during this class-- the way is through form. And by form, I mean anything that keeps the poem together. A sonnet, the fact that it's a tight 14 lines, has a certain rhyme scheme, certain meter, also a certain subject. All of those are the glue that's keeping this object of-- language object together. Because the reader comes to your book of poems not because the reader is interested in you, the reader is indifferent to you. The reader comes to the book of poems because the reader loves poetry. Now, in order to make a connection with the reader, what you have to do in your poetry is tell a little white lie. Harmless, but it's a lie. And the lie is that you love poetry more than you love yourself. We know that's not true. But if you can give that impression to the reader as the reader picks up your book and sees that you're giving off evidence that you love poetry through form, then the reader's interest overlaps with yours. The reader's interest of poetry sees someone else interested in poetry and not just in self-expression. Yates said all that is personal will rot if it is not packed in ice and salt. Now ice and salt would be...

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, you make poetry delicious. You make poetry relevant and relatable. I wish everyone could taste this dish.

So many ideas, so any jumping off points and so heart-warmingly delivered. I feel Billy Collins has been sitting beside me sharing his writerly wisdoms.

very lovely ! it was like if were my dad talking to me with such care Thank you !

I never liked poetry, but he made it easier for me to understand and appreciate it.



Loved the description into the form of his art as well as his description of how to communicate differently to readers. To draw the audience in including some very specific terminology regarding poetry.

Tirian K.

I enjoyed your reference to poetry as if it were a person guiding and sharing. The listening is our choice. That in many ways it is a collaborative relationship. We shape the words,feelings, and form a key to the entering it. In the process of the relationship we the writer are changed as well. Each poem sharing and teaching us about parts of who we are.

Charlie G.

Hello this evening class, I think this class is going to be a really helpful tool in shed. Putting my thoughts into form. I am ready to learn.

Maryn R.

Hi I’m 72. I’ve written poetry since I was 4. I wrote to survive. I have a degree from Ivic in psych and Creative writing. Dual inter faculty degree which means I mainly studied Creative writing and Psychology. First Psychology then Creative writing where I workshopped short stories poetry and wrote half a novel.

Deborah S.

I enjoyed your introduction. I love poetry. I didn’t know how much I loved it until I began studying Shakespeare. The rhythm and rhyme of his dialogue seemed so inspiring to me. When I saw you present your new class in a spot on YOUTUBE, I knew instantly when you said ‘there’s a lot of staring that goes on,’ that I had to take your class as I am a master at starring at a page before I begin to come up with more poetry or right now, a novel. I need to open up the poetic influence of my mind. I figure this is a great place to be.

simon B.

Long and explanatory A poem begun in the rerun that came out of the shunned first gun. Happened to be what it didn’t see and it showed plenty to thee. O gosh golly. Jolly polly Molly. That was a folly.

Kuya M.

I use a notebook too .. .sometimes I'll do a 10-minute writing on a topic, such as "mashed potatoes" no control, no editing, no censoring, no line breaks. Just word after word laid down on the page. Not finishing one thought, not allowing the hand to stop moving from the left side of the page the the right side. Then I pick up a phrase in the first 10-minute writing and do it over again. Then a phrase or word in the second ten-minute writing and I do it again. Then I put it all up on the computer screen to see if there is a poem somewhere in there - or maybe even a good first line. Or sometimes I just write on the computer first draft, second draft and third draft - and yes - lose all my previous drafts. Oh well!

A fellow student

I’m inside my room Lying in my bed Body is facing up Head is facing forward Neck is going to break From staring at my phone

A fellow student

Need a written outline I fear Something inside my head to hear Spoken words may lift at the time Eyebrows raised with each new rhyme But with no writing to aid our instruction Our learning path is pave with destruction. Please an outline.

Esther M.

I loved it but is there a work book, or a pdf? It would be very helpful for me!!