Lit Controversy : Billy Collins

What's this & disclaimer

This is a thread originally started elsewhere on the Internet regarding U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins and, more specifically, his collection Picnic, Lightning (Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1998). None of the opinions expressed here necessarily reflect or coincide with my own views. I am unable to assume any liability whatsoever regarding the authenticity of the names and e-mail addresses stated by the participants in the thread.

Thread closed

The tendency revealed by the thread is clear: There are those who like Mr. Collins' poetry and there are those who don't Ė for reasons they have attempted to state here at this obscure website, as one of you wrote Ė and I'm afraid the twain shall never meet.
 Thank you all for your time and effort.
One of my reasons for closing the thread is that there are too many departures from factual argument for my taste. The attempts to discredit people who are expressing a critical opinion by calling them whiners or snobs are puzzling and reminiscent of political mudslinging ahead of elections. But then again, I suppose, it could be said that Mr. E. Springsteen set the tone right from the start and should not be surprised by some of the response elicited. J.B.

Start of thread (July 23, 2003)

Polemic Rave about Americaís Poet Laureate

Just read some of Billy Collins. The guy is so pleasant and easy itís no wonder he became Americaís poet laureate. Jesus Christ, what a thing to have in a country of 250 million of which probably less than a million ever touch shit like poetry. But youíve got to have one who does it best, like The President or Michael Jordan.

One who hits the popular jugular with a vengeance because he thrives, absolutely thrives on one thing: accepted mediocrity hanging on to the underbelly of poetry just enough to give you that slightly elevated feel that, as we all know, should come with poetry.

And heís funny! (Almost as funny as the newspaper funnies.)

There is no challenge. Cozying up to reading lower to middle class vernacular and objects they are also likely to diddle with and muze over in that part of their spare time reserved for poetry.

Like getting chased inside by a bee and calling it little punk: how cute. Instant gratification guaranteed.

It is good that he writes, in "Reincarnation and You,"

                                Once around is enough for me

Billy Collins once around is indeed enough.

Elias Springsteen ewss@hodmail.vxd

(July 25, 2003)

I personally think Elias Springsteenís take on Mr. Collins is an unfair misrepresentation of a wonderful poet that might get America to read poetry once again. Mr. Collins has a wonderfully sensitive sense of humor and an amazing grasp of the contemporary American idiom.

Ruth Gallagher

(July 28, 2003)

Billy hasnít found my jugular either. Congrats to Elias for opening his mouth about everybodyís poetic darling. Euch.

Sherman Brodsky

(Aug. 2, 2003)

Billy Collins is funny & fun! Wish more of these so-called "poets" were like that. Springsteen is a stick-in-the-mud and spoilsport. And if Mr. Collins is mediocre Iím proud of my mediocrity for liking him. Also Iíd like to point out that he deals with religious matters more deeply than one wd. assume from that reincarnation bit (read Shoveling Snow with Buddha! from that same great vol.).

I.L. Hampstead

(Aug. 2, 2003)

Came across this by ax. What the hellís this about ... never heard of the guy. We all know from the bible that thereís no recincarn., so why waste tiem.

Sue T. midwestbelle12546@hwya.newt

(Aug. 12, 2003)

Anyone read Allen Ginsberg?! Now thats ptry u cn read & get somethn out of (currently staying w frd in Hung)

Orbit X.

(Aug. 16, 2003)

Is this another tongue-in-cheek smart-ass attack on George W. Bush? Iím thoroughly disgusted with all these gophers attacking a pres. thatís done so much for the country

Carmen Miranda Spiros, Ft. Lauderdale

(Aug. 19, 2003)

Yea! Letís have Dubya, Billy & Michael in a tv slam competition!!!

Boone S. Parker

(Aug. 29, 2003)

As they say ... millions of flies ... err ... a few thousand ... canít be wrong

Lynn E. Brownington

(Nov. 24, 2003)

There is no challenge??? Hmmm... poetry & challenge... seems like conradictories. Bizarre how the snobs have to attach a challenge to something as natural as art, poetry, etc., just to set themselves apart from others. It calls to mind the "secret handshake" or the "password" to a club most people would rather not be a part of to begin with.
No sour grapes here. Just an eyeroll and herty chuckle at the Elias Spingsteens of the world. No doubt, he's been on a mission to set himself apart from the common-man popstar of the same last name ever since he first heard the question "Hey, are you related to...?"

Follow your bliss...


(March 4, 2004)

I personally find Mr. Collins' poetry to be refreshing in a day and age where everyone is attacked who hold to simple beliefs. Besides, poetry is personal and beautiful and who am I to diminish the importance of anyone being willing to open up to others. I applaud Mr. Collins for his honesty.

D. Frake

(April 26, 2004)

This man writes to the people not to some self-important panel of cryptic intelectuals.

Billy Collins opens minds without flying over his readers' heads. He leads his audience on a nearly free associative journey, taking imaginative, thrilling leaps without sacrificing coherence, and he brings us to those delightful spaces between the ordinary that we gloss over routinely.

Jason Larsen

(April 27, 2004)

Happened to stop by this "controversy" by accident. I suppose it's all about where you set your standards. To me, reading Collins is sort of like eating at MacDonald's: it's convenient, it's fast, it's relatively cheap, you get your carbos but not all that much else. Well, this may be a bit unfair... But please don't come down too hard on people who prefer better food... It's not a crime to use one's brain and dare to be a little more intellectual Ė a little more picky.

Heather Doolittle

(May 27, 2004)

Billy Collins is accessible--he enters your mind with hum drum everyday tasks/thoughts and manages, before he leaves you, to make you think about them as well as your view of things in some new way--maybe only a small way--but a new way. As a teacher myself, his poetry about teaching is spot on and really makes one think about how and who we teach, what we teach, and why we teach. Plus, he likes jazz.

Mary L. Perkins

(August 18, 2004)

Comments: Basically, as you see it, the poet's glaring faults are that he is, "pleasant, easy and funny."

I find it amazing when people take exception to a poet or their poetry simply because they snobbishly deem it "easy to understand."

Layers of meaning yes, but difficult to understand has never been listed as a necessary part of good poetry.

These same people, self-proclaimed keepers of the art" indignantly rise up in protest and carry signs listing the

true qualities of a "real poet," as they snobbishly see it.

They do not waste a minute on thought, reflection or looking for a deeper meaning before vultureisticly grabbing their sharpies and

poster board. They are entirely too busy scribbling the true attributes of a poem on their protest signs.

Doesn't anyone understand humor, irony and wit?

Does everyone think poetry must to be about a silver moon, a vast ocean or a fragrant breeze to be worthy?

How many, like Elias Springsteen, believe poetry must bleed to even be considered a poem...?


(August 20, 2004)

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Stupid accessible unchallenging poetry. So what if it touches a broad group of people. Stupid people. We need some pate here so we can feel superior.


(August 26, 2004)

B.C. = trendy verbiage that, I promise you, will be filed under "oblivion" in 10, 20 years. Just like, for example, William Whitehead.


British poet laureate of 1757 (1715-85), now chiefly remembered as a footnote in Jane Austen's novel Mansfield Park.

Anonymous (do not wish to be accused of popstar envy, elitism or some other ism by letting somebody latch onto a name)

(August 27, 2004)

I'm willing to bet my life that the whiners here are unread poets... well, unread by anyone other than mothers who are simply being kind while hoping that their 40 year old kid moves beyond their poetry phase and out of the basement. I happen to like Collins... (detest Bush for what its worth) and can outread, outreason, and outsmart any these losers who need to run down others on an obscure website to feel worthy.

John Kerry

(August 27, 2004)

"Billy Collins writes lovely poems," writes John Updike. "Limpid, gently and consistently startling, more serious than they seem, they describe all the worlds that are and were and some others besides."

(no name)

(August 29, 2004)

When I come across commentary like that of E. Springsteen, it makes me shudder.

Poetry is an amazingly beautiful artform. and it is something that becomes more beautiful when its feet are on the ground.

I find much of comtemporary poetry to be so self-serving for the poet. Billy Collins's work is typical of untypical,greatness. He can communicate deeply and effectively with his readers in language all can appreciate. That is what poetry should be. Springsteen, try reading some Butler Yeats, who Collins reminds me of in many ways, and tell me if that is too simplistic for you?

Rebecca L


Index | International Poetry in Translation