Former Poet Laureate of the United States visits Hudson Valley

Billy Collins, former New York State Poet

 Billy Collins, an American poet and former Poet Laureate of the United States, visited Hudson Valley students, faculty and staff to speak at a workshop for select students and faculty.

Nominated as the United States Poet Laureate in 2001, Collins held this title until 2003. From 2004 until 2006, Collins held the title as Poet Laureate for the State of New York.

Collins started writing poems around the age of 10, however, his first book was not published until he was over 40. In regards to this, Collins said, “You have to get the bad poems out before the good ones.”

Currently, Collins is a university professor and has judged many poetry contests. He has won awards such as the American Irish Historical Society Cultural Award in 2001 and the Mark Twain Award for Humor in Poetry in 2005.

Approximately 20 students took part in a workshop with Collins on Friday morning where students had the opportunity to ask the poet questions and receive advice in terms of writing poetry.

Collins believes that influence will help current writers with their own poetry.

“My sense of writing is all about influence. Find writers that make you jealous and develop your favorites,” said Collins.

Some writers that have influenced Collins are Emily Dickinson, Anne Sexton and William Wordsworth.

“I think this workshop was beneficial. Many students were taking notes and paying attention. Personally I learned things to keep in mind, but I don’t really write contemporary poetry,” said Olivia Klingler, first year individual studies major.

Following the workshop, Collins then conducted a reading of some of his poems and a questions and answers session.

When introducing Collins, Professor Megeen Mulholland of the English department said, “Hold up his poetry and bask in the illumination.”

A few of the poems read by Collins included “Cheerios,” “The Golden Years,” “The Lanyard” and “Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep A Gun in the House.”

“Poetry is a very intimate, whispered communication. Your job is to make the reader feel something,” said Collins. “I rather that everyone didn’t read poetry. I want it to be something special.”

Following the readings of his poems, Collins then took part in a question and answer session conducted by Mulholland.

Students from Mulholland’s class stood and read their own poems that were inspired by Collins. At the end of the presentation, Maria Palmara, department chairperson of English, modern languages and English as a second language, and English Professor Ellen Laird, presented Collins with customized Hudson Valley golf balls and a golf towel because of his love for golfing.

“This was a good opportunity to interest students in meeting a practicing poet and to also introduce students to contemporary poetry,” said English Professor Mary Evans.

“Poetry in Motion” is a program that displays famous poems on buses and subways for people to read throughout their everyday lives. Collins has had involvement with this program, as well as co-founding The Mid-Atlantic Review.

“People often times think of poetry as a school thing. But, poetry is the history of human feeling and the heart. We all grieve, fall in love, celebrate and feel rejected,” said Collins.

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