A two-term U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins captures readers with his understated wit, profound insight — and a sense of being "hospitable."

Why you should listen

Accessibility is not a word often associated with great poetry. Yet Billy Collins has managed to create a legacy from what he calls being poetically “hospitable.” Preferring lyrical simplicity to abstruse intellectualism, Collins combines humility and depth of perception, undercutting light and digestible topics with dark and at times biting humor.

While Collins approaches his work with a healthy sense of self-deprecation, calling his poems “domestic” and “middle class,” John Taylor has said of Collins: “Rarely has anyone written poems that appear so transparent on the surface yet become so ambiguous, thought-provoking, or simply wise once the reader has peered into the depths.”

In 2001 he was named U.S. Poet Laureate, a title he kept until 2003. Collins lives in Somers, New York, and is an English professor at City University of New York, where he has taught for more than 40 years.

Credits for the animations in this talk:

"Budapest," "Forgetfulness" and "Some Days" -- animation by Julian Grey/Head Gear

"The Country" -- animation by Brady Baltezor/Radium

"The Dead" -- animation by Juan Delcan/Spontaneous
 

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