Biography of Billy Collins

Billy Collins is arguably America's most popular contemporary poet. As the Poetry Foundation notes, "Collins’s level of fame is almost unprecedented in the world of contemporary poetry." Collins has achieved this popularity through his witty style, close observations, and dissection of everyday moments.

Collins was born in New York City in 1941 and grew up in Queens. He received a B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross and an M.A. and PhD in Romantic poetry from the University of California-Riverside.

In 1977, Collins published his first book of poetry, Pokerface, which was followed by two further collections in the 1980s. In 1991, his manuscript Questions About Angels was selected for the National Poetry Series, which sponsors the publication of strong poetry collections. His next two collections, The Art of Drowning (1995) and Picnic, Lightning (1998), received positive reviews and high sales. Collins published Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems in 2001, following a dispute between two major publishing houses which both sought to publish his works. Collins has continued to regularly publish collections throughout the 2000s, including Nine Horses (2002), The Trouble with Poetry, and Other Poems (2005), Ballistics (2008), Horoscopes for the Dead (2011), Aimless Love (2013), The Rain in Portugal (2016), and Whale Day (2020).

In addition to these full collections, Collins has published individual poems in many literary journals and periodicals, including the American Poetry Review, Harper's, The Paris Review, and The New Yorker. His works have also been selected for inclusion in anthologies including the annual Best American Poetry series. In 1975, Collins co-founded a literary journal called the Mid-Atlantic Review.

Collins has been praised for his humorous style and everyday subject matter. Collins himself has described his work as "suburban," "domestic," and "unashamedly...middle class." His work predominantly eschews traditional rhyme structures or formal styles in favor of free verse. He is also known to focus on details and observational humor, typically building his poems around a single predominant theme.

Collins served two consecutive terms as the U.S. poet laureate, from 2001 to 2003. In this position, he developed an initiative to encourage high school students to read and connect with poetry. Following this role, he served as the New York Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006. Collins has also received multiple fellowships, including from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He has taught poetry at many institutions, including Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence College, Lehman College, and the City University of New York. Collins resides in Somers, New York.

Study Guides on Works by Billy Collins

"Afternoon with Irish Cows" first appeared in Billy Collins' fourth poetry collection Picnic, Lightning (1998). Notably, the original cover of the collection depicts an open, gold-colored field with animals grazing, which visually captures the...

The History Teacher was written by former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins as part of his anthology collection Questions About Angels (1991).

In the poem, a teacher fails to do his job properly as a history teacher, and instead decides to create his...

The poems of Billy Collins seem destined to assure he is always relegated to that odd sphere of “major” minor poet. As Ogden Nash discovered before him, having a sense of humor and not being afraid to flaunt it means a deduction in critical points...