From Billy Collins's MasterClass

Working With Form

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

Topics include: The Love of Strangers · Connect with Strangers Through Form · The Shapeliness of Poetry · The Shapeliness of Poetry · The First Few Lines of the Poem · Line and Stanza · Lines and Stanzas in “Elk River Falls”


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

Topics include: The Love of Strangers · Connect with Strangers Through Form · The Shapeliness of Poetry · The Shapeliness of Poetry · The First Few Lines of the Poem · Line and Stanza · Lines and Stanzas in “Elk River Falls”

Billy Collins

Teaches 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.

Red glasses and a messy desk, we will get along well.

I'm far from finished. I LOVE Billy Collins' poetry.. his voice calls to me... so far I enjoy him talking to 'ME" had to 'break for awhile'... but .

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

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!



The exercise from the workbook for this lesson was helpful - "look at the stanzas: in the margins of your poem, write down what each stanza or “room” is revealing." I could see how the stanzas related to each other and came full circle by the end of the poem.

Faith M.

The love of strangers, that's what it's all about. For my 12th birthday, a pretty red-haired friend gave me a little red diary with a tiny brass lock and key. To me: Thrilling. To my mother: somehow, frightening. "You have no secrets," she said. "You have no reason to keep secrets," she said. "Nice girls, and make no mistake, you are a nice girl, do not have secrets from their mothers." With a dull, waxy, red pencil, I roundly printed my name, address, and phone number on page one. The thrill was gone and soon therafter, so were the keys. No doubt, strangers will run onto them one day and when they read my little name there in tender red pencil, they will not be able to resist loving me.

Mechelle R.

2nd time through lesson 2. So good. Elk River Falls crushes me in the best way possible.


"Diary without the lock" I like this description as my poems come from my journal. So much to think about and experience in this lesson.

Warren D.

Very helpful in getting a more concrete understanding of the structure and idea of a poem. I love the idea of "an audience of strangers." It was not something I thought about before, but certainly makes sense.

A fellow student

The advice to connect with the reader immediately is thought-provoking, especially the comment to make few demands upon the reader in the beginning. Students often wonder what ideas or topics are going to interest people; working with everyday ideas simplifies the beginning of a poem and takes pressure off the writer and reader.

John S.

I especially enjoyed Collins' suggestions to keep the poem's title and opening lines simple and engaging to the reader before it "turns" or becomes more metaphysical or complex. His metaphor of the eye chart is brilliant.

A fellow student

Taylor's definition of poetry; line length...the folding back on itself, a weaving. Start with the simple, what's in front of you and step forward a stanza at a time, until the house is seen. As the white space of silence on a page is to the poem, so is negative space on a canvas focusing the subject of art. I love ELK RIVER FALLS.

Mechelle R.

So the poem is a displacement of silence. Prose is a continuation of noise... ~ 😊 That will be in my soul forever.

Cynthia B.

I love how the title is a welcome mat. I don't think we should just slap any title on a poem, but the idea of a welcome mat makes it much less intimidating. I can always buy a new welcome mat, right?