The New York Times labels Billy Collins as “the most popular poet in America.” Poetry fans, ever sensitive to overstatement, know Collins as perhaps the most charming writer to ever grace verse.
Whether or not you care for Collins’ breezy way with poetry, often parodied but never equaled, there’s no denying his versatility. His best-selling 2001 collection, Sailing Alone Around the Room, bridges the poetic divide between literary devices, ranging from poems such as “The Death of Allegory,” an erotic underwear catalog in “Victoria’s Secret,” and cooking to jazz music, “I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey’s Version of ‘Three Blind Mice.’ ”
As U.S. poet laureate from 2001 to 2003, Collins wrote “The Names,” one of the first known poems in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He’ll read that poem in a recorded broadcast for PBS, days before taking a plane to Utah, where he’ll speak Sept. 8 at Snow College in Ephraim. He took his phone interview from Washington, D.C.
Do you blush when people compare you to Robert Frost?
No, I’m just quick to correct them on the comparison. Compared to Frost, my poetry is like a bed that hasn’t been made in six months. Frost was a genius in observing the rules of formal poetry — rhyme and meter — and yet made his poems seem as natural as a song. I can’t do that. I sound natural, but I follow a much less restrictive set of rules. The only point of comparison, really, is that we both sold a lot of books in our time.