March 31, 2003
College Endowed English Reading to Feature
In the midst of his second term as U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins is re-igniting a love of poetry in thousands of people who, upon graduating from high school, turned in their musty poetry textbooks with sighs of relief and never considered poetry again - until they encountered Collins' work. Collins, who writes with humor, grace and originality about everyday experiences such as cooking, insomnia, fishing, death, piano lessons and forgetfulness, holds a firmly established reputation as a poet of the people whose work combines high critical acclaim with broad popular appeal.
Described in an Oct. 2002 New York Times article as "...not only a wildly successful seller of books (as poets go, anyway) but also a charming public reader who can pack auditoriums," Collins is Whitworth College's 2002-03 Endowed English Reader. He will read from his works on Friday, April 11, at 7:30 p.m. in Cowles Memorial Auditorium at Whitworth. Following the reading, Collins will take part in a question-and-answer session and will sign his books, which will be available to purchase. The reading is free and open to the public. For more information, please call (509) 777-3253.
"Billy Collins is certainly one of the foremost American poets, not only because he is the Poet Laureate of the U.S., but because even before he held that post, he reached a wider readership than many former laureates," says Whitworth Professor of English Doug Sugano. "He is a wonderful reader, an engaging personality, and a poet who cares about what Americans both read and believe."
Collins, who considers humor a door into the serious, describes poetry as being "the only history of the human heart that we have."
Poet Edward Hirsch calls Collins "...an American original, a metaphysical poet with a funny bone and a sly questioning intelligence. He is an ironist of the void and his poems - witty, playful, and beautifully turned - bump up against the deepest human mysteries."
The Library of Congress appointed Collins as United States Poet Laureate 2001-03 in June 2001. He succeeds 10 former laureates including Robert Penn Warren, Robert Hass, Richard Wilbur, Mark Strand, Mona Van Duyn, Rita Dove and Stanley Kunitz. Collins' duties as Poet Laureate include giving readings, introducing the Library of Congress' annual poetry and literature reading series, and suggesting authors to read in the series and planning other events during the reading season.
Author Annie Proulx has remarked about Collins, "I have never before felt possessive about a poet, but I am fiercely glad that Billy Collins is ours - smart, his strings tuned and resonant, his wonderful eye looping over the things, events and ideas of the world, rueful, playful, warm-voiced, easy to love."
Collins is the author of seven collections of poetry, including Nine Horses: Poems (2002); Sailing Alone Around the Room: New & Selected Poems (2001); Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes (2000); and Picnic, Lightning (1997). He also recorded a spoken-word CD, "The Best Cigarette"(1997).
In March 2003 Random House published an anthology of contemporary poems, Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, for which Collins selected the poems and wrote an introduction. The anthology was inspired by Collins' online program, "Poetry 180," which he established as Poet Laureate. He calls the program a "poetry jukebox" for high-school students that features one poem for every day of the school year.
The poems, which are available on the Library of Congress' website, were written by lesser-known poets and are intended to revive or create in students a love of poetry during a time in their lives when poetry often becomes stale, Collins says. His only requirement is that students do not have to analyze the poems. "Poetry 180" has generated nearly one-million hits each week.
In addition to his seven collections of poetry, Collins' work has appeared in anthologies, textbooks, and a variety of periodicals including Poetry, The American Poetry Review, The American Scholar, Harper's, The Paris Review and The New Yorker. One of his poems was selected for The Best American Poetry 1992 and another was included in The Best American Poetry 1993.
He has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, The National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He has also won the Bess Hokin Prize, the Frederick Bock Prize, the Oscar Blumenthal Prize, and the Levinson Prize, all of which were awarded by Poetry magazine. In 1992 Collins was chosen by the New York Public Library to serve as its "Literary Lion."
"Most gratifying for me," Collins said in a Sept. 2001 Poetics interview, "more than winning this or that poetry prize, is hearing that people have been brought back to poetry by reading my work."
Collins attended Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., and earned a doctorate in romantic poetry from the University of California, Riverside. He serves as distinguished professor of English at Lehman College at the City University of New York, where he has taught for 30 years, and is writer-in-residence at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, N.Y. He was also poet-in-residence at Burren College of Art in Ireland. For several years he has conducted summer poetry workshops at University College Galway.
Since Collins' appointment as Poet Laureate, some critics have censured his poems for being too mundane and simplistic; others have praised him as America's first popular poet since Robert Frost. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Collins' work has been more popular than ever; his 2001 collection of poems, Sailing Alone Around the Room: New & Selected Poems, is in its fifth printing.
"My poetry was never written for a nation in crisis, obviously, if you've read any," Collins said in a March/April 2002 Mother Jones interview. "But my poems and lots of people's poems are unintentional responses to terrorism, in that they honor life. Poems are a preservative for experience, and there would be no reason to preserve experience if one did not feel that there's something special and even sacred about it."
Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private, liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The college enrolls 2,200 students in more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs.
Doug Sugano, professor of English, Whitworth College, (509) 777-4212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julie Riddle, public information specialist, Whitworth College, (509) 777-3729 or email@example.com.