Billy Collins

poet laureate icon
1941 –
Poet Laureate of the United States, 2001–2003

Billy Collins was born in New York, New York, on March 22, 1941. He is the author of several books of poetry, including Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems (Random House, 2013), Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems (Random House, 2012); Ballistics: Poems (Random House, 2008); She Was Just Seventeen (Modern Haiku Press, 2006); The Trouble with Poetry: And Other Poems (Random House, 2005); Nine Horses (Pan Macmillan, 2002); Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems (Random House, 2001); Picnic, Lightning (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998); The Art of Drowning (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995), which was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; Questions About Angels (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991), which was selected by Edward Hirsch for the National Poetry Series; The Apple That Astonished Paris (University of Arkansas Press, 1988); Video Poems (Applezaba Press, 1979); and Pokerface (Kenmore Press, 1977).

A recording of Collins reading thirty-three of his poems, The Best Cigarette, was released in 1997. Collins’s poetry has appeared in anthologies, textbooks, and a variety of periodicals, including Poetry, American Poetry Review, American Scholar, Harper’s, The Paris Review, and The New Yorker. His work has also been featured in the Pushcart Prize anthology and has been chosen several times for the annual Best American Poetry series. Collins has edited Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry (Random House, 2003), an anthology of contemporary poems for use in schools, and was a guest editor for the 2006 edition of The Best American Poetry.

About Collins, the poet Stephen Dunn has said,

We seem to always know where we are in a Billy Collins poem, but not necessarily where he is going. I love to arrive with him at his arrivals. He doesn’t hide things from us, as I think lesser poets do. He allows us to overhear, clearly, what he himself has discovered.

Collins served as U.S. poet laureate from 2001 to 2003, and as the New York State poet laureate from 2004 to 2006. His other honors and awards include the Mark Twain Prize for Humor in Poetry, as well as fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1992, he was chosen by the New York Public Library to serve as “Literary Lion.” He has conducted summer poetry workshops in Ireland at University College Galway, and taught at Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence College, and Lehman College, City University of New York. He lives in Somers, New York.