Next up in the Winter Park Institute’s speaker series, U.S. poet laureate and Winter Park resident Billy Collins will regale the audience with his newest poetry collection.
This article originally appeared in Winter Park Magazine’s summer 2017 issue. It is republished here with permission.
You don’t often find poetry collections on The New York Times bestseller list—unless they’re written by Billy Collins, the former two-term U.S. poet laureate and WPI senior distinguished fellow who calls Winter Park home.
Billy Collins is a cultural phenomenon. His most recent collection of poetry, last year’s The Rain in Portugal, scaled The New York Times bestseller list and cemented Collins’ reputation as the poet for people who think they don’t like poetry. For this event, he will present Beyond the Birdbath: Poems from Several Time Zones as part of the Winter Park Institute’s speaker series.
But that’s not the only reason his 2016 reading from the WPI Speaker Series drew a standing-room-only crowd. As WPI’s senior distinguished fellow and a Winter Park resident, Collins has also been adopted by locals as their favorite resident celebrity—no offense to Carrot Top—and the most important literary figure to have a Winter Park address since novelist Irving Bacheller (Eben Holden: A Tale from the North Country) lived here before World War II.
But while Bacheller is little-remembered, Collins—an effective advocate for his genre—will undoubtedly be read generations from now just as eagerly as he is today. His last three collections have broken sales records for poetry, and he’s a fixture on National Public Radio. Fans from around the U.S. pack his appearances from coast to coast.
It’s not that Collins is loud or flashy. The poems themselves—combined with their author’s wry, poignant, and at times self-deprecating stage persona—are what engage and delight audiences.
The typical Collins poem opens on a clear and hospitable note, but soon takes an unexpected turn; works that begin ironically may end surprisingly. No wonder Collins sees his poetry as “a form of travel writing” and considers humor “a door into the serious.”
About Collins, the poet Stephen Dunn has said, “We seem to always know where we are in a Billy Collins poem, but not necessarily where he is going. I love to arrive with him at his arrivals. He doesn’t hide things from us, as I think lesser poets do. He allows us to overhear, clearly, what he himself has discovered.”
Collins served as U.S. poet laureate from 2001 to 2003, and as New York State poet laureate from 2004 to 2006. Other honors and awards include the Mark Twain Prize for Humor in Poetry—he was the inaugural recipient—as well as fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1992, he was chosen by the New York Public Library to serve as “Literary Lion.”
Last year Collins was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an honor society of the country’s 250 leading architects, artists, composers, and writers. Founding members included William Merritt Chase, Kenyon Cox, Daniel Chester French, Childe Hassam, Henry James, Theodore Roosevelt, Elihu Vedder, and Woodrow Wilson.
Beyond the Birdbath: Poems from Several Time Zones
Wednesday, November 8, 7:30 p.m.
Ticket prices: $10-$15
Rollins faculty, staff, and students receive free admission to Winter Park Institute events. Faculty and staff members can request two free tickets, and Rollins students can request one free ticket. To reserve your tickets, contact the Rollins box office at BoxOffice@rollins.edu or 407-646-2145.