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Billy Collins (born March 22, 1941) is an American poet, who was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003 and the New York State Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006.
Interview with Kritya: In the Name of Poetry
- Novelists, playwrights, painters and others may hold in their heads the expectation of fame, but not poets. Having chosen that road, all one can dream of is the jealousy of one's rivals. Celebrity is unexpected and almost unseemly--it forces one to wear a constant look of chagrin, if that is possible. Unless you are Byron, who was the first poet to become a star. At its worst, fame means being known by strangers--enough to bring on waves of paranoia.
- For the translator of poetry, there is no activity that brings you into a closer, more intimate contact with language, both the second language and your own language, which translation allows you to experience freshly. Of course, translation is the impossible art which is why it attracts often the best minds, at least those driven by difficulty. The best metaphor I know for translation is from my friend Eamon Grennan, who translated the poems of Leopardi. It's like walking in a clear mountain stream, looking at colorful stones in the water. You find one so gorgeous, you put it in your pocket, take it home and put it on a shelf. In the morning you are surprised that the stone looks so dull and without luster. You have the stone, but you have removed it from the water of its home language so it has lost its luster.
- It is important for the poet not to be emotional because you cannot see the world clearly with tears in your eyes.
- Poetry in America is no longer a dirty word. While it is still far from the center of the culture, it is moving slowly inward from the margins. I believe more and more people are shedding their outmoded notions of poetry as an exotic hobby--the result of bad teaching and worse public image problems--and coming to the realization that poetry is about their lives. Poetry is about them.
- I find it impossible to think of "favorite" poets. I would rather list the ones I cannot stand.
- The person in the poem is a character like a character in fiction whom the poet has invented--without clothes or a family, or a place of birth, just a voice--to convey himself. Any resemblance he bears to the poet you meet on a signing line is slightly less than coincidental. Meeting the author is one of life's most reliably disappointing experiences, not because authors are such nasty people, but because you have already met them under the best possible circumstance--on the page.
- The underlying theme of Western poetry is mortality. The theme of carpe diem asks us to seize the day because we have only a limited number of them. To see life through the lens of death is to approach the condition of gratitude for the gift (or simply the fact) of our existence. And as Wallace Stevens said, Death is the mother of beauty. Only the perishable can be beautiful, which is why we are unmoved by artificial flowers.
- Wars begin through greed and vanity and are continued through the insanity of nationalism in which the boundaries of a land replace God.
- I was raised in a fairly strict religious family and attended 16 years of Catholic schools. I feel now that my sense of the spiritual is directly connected to my sense of wonder, my ability to be amazed by the fact of my existence in all its vital impermanence AND by the spectacular environment I wake up to every morning. I am guessing that this sense of wonder is what the creator, if there is one, is still feeling.