Saturday, March 22, 2014

Happy birthday to Billy Collins

"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."
~ Stephen Dunn

Billy Collins has become one of my favorite poets ever since I read his poem "The Death of the Hat," which reminded me of my dad in all the good ways.
by Billy Collins
Once every man wore a hat.
In the ashen newsreels,
the avenues of cities
are broad rivers flowing with hats.
The ballparks swelled
with thousands of strawhats,
brims and bands,
rows of men smoking
and cheering in shirtsleeves.
Hats were the law.
They went without saying.
You noticed a man without a hat in a crowd.
You bought them from Adams or Dobbs
who branded your initials in gold
on the inside band.
Trolleys crisscrossed the city.
Steamships sailed in and out of the harbor.
Men with hats gathered on the docks.
There was a person to block your hat
and a hatcheck girl to mind it
while you had a drink
or ate a steak with peas and a baked potato.
In your office stood a hat rack.
The day the war was declared
everyone in the street was wearing a hat
and they were wearing hats
when a ship loaded with men sank in the icy sea.
My father wore one to work every day
and returned home
carrying the evening paper,
the winter chill radiating from his overcoat.
But today we go bareheaded
into the winter streets,
stand hatless on frozen platforms.
Today the mailboxes on the roadside
and the spruce trees behind the house
wear cold white hats of snow.
Mice scurry from the stone walls at night
in their thin fur hats
to eat the birdseed that has spilled.
And now my father, after a life of work,
wears a hat of earth,
and on top of that,
A lighter one of cloud and sky--a hat of wind.

I've seen him read a few times now, and each time I've liked him more. But today I came across this video and I wanted to share it with you. He collaborated with Sundance a couple of years ago to create animations of several poems. They're surprisingly wonderful.

But stick around for the final poem, "To My Favorite 17-Year-Old High School Girl," which will bring a smile to the face of anyone who's ever had a teenager in the house.

Learn more about Billy Collins and read his poems here:


  1. So, so great. I think he and Calvin Trillin may have been separated at birth, what do you think? Thank you for this gift, Michele.

  2. I just adore Billy Collins. I feel like he's the poet to hand to anyone who thinks they don't like poetry.

  3. Susan, that's a great observation. The two of them do share a down-to-earth slyness (although brother Calvin may be a bit more sly). And J, I couldn't agree more. There's a reason why he's supposedly the most popular poet in the U.S. He's that good.