Billy Collins Recites his Conversational, Observational, Quirky Poems

By Louise Frank |

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Billy Collins (Photo: Marcelo Noah, CC BY 2.0)

“Radio is such a perfect medium for the transmission of poetry, primarily because there just is the voice.”

— Billy Collins

Billy Collins is a wonderfully prolific, contemporary poet whose brief, poignant, and idiosyncratic word gems earned him the prestigious title of Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. A distinguished educator, he was also named the New York State Poet from 2004 to 2006, and in 2016, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

He has written hundreds of “conversational, witty poems” which the Poetry Foundation says “welcome readers with humor but often slip into quirky, tender, or profound observations.”

With typical understatement, Billy Collins once explained the inspiration behind his poem “Litany” by quipping, “I take the first two lines of someone else’s’ poem and then re-write it for them.” In truth, he does ever so much more than that. His unique, compact prose serves up ever-deepening layers of meaning and context.

Billy Collins recites “Litany”


Julian Grey of Headgear Animation brings Billy Collins’s poems visually to life in a series of charming animations.

Billy Collins shared poetry from his fourth collection, Questions about Angels, during a literary hour he spent with Studs Terkel in 1994. During that program, he recited Forgetfulness, an ode to memory, and you can hear it on the Best of Studs Terkel, Friday, April 3, 2020, at 11:00 PM.