Billy Collins poems

What happens to a kid if his mother is able to recite verses on almost every subject?  He grows up to become Poet Laureate of the United States in 2001.

Billy Collins is one of my favorite American poets.  He grew up in White Plains, NY, founded The Mid Atlantic Review in 1975, and is currently a Distinguished Professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York.

While he was Poet Laureate, he instituted the program Poetry 180 for high schools.  He chose 180 contemporary poems and published the anthology called Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, one for every day of school. One of my favorites is Not Bad, Dad, Not Bad by Jan Heller Levi.

A bestselling collection of his poems is Sailing Alone Around the Room. One of my favorites in that book is Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House:

The neighbors’ dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.

The neighbors’ dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music
barking, barking, barking,

and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.

When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton


while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.

Poet Laureate Collins’s poem The Lanyard is currently swirling around the internet, passed from mother to mother –

“…Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth


that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.”

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