Collins Values Approachable Poetry, Not Pretension Billy Collins, former U.S. poet laureate, thinks too many poets show off — writing obscure verses that turn many readers off. In his latest collection, Horoscopes For The Dead, Collins strives to write poetry that all readers can appreciate.

Collins Values Approachable Poetry, Not Pretension

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when the definition of literacy included an ability to recite Burns, Keats, Dickenson or Poe from memory. And if poetry no longer plays a major role in the intellectual and emotional lives of most Americans, Billy Collins lays part of the blame on poets.

Show-offy, gratuitously difficult, overly experimental, the former poet laureate says. Collins' work is consciously accessible. In a poem titled "Bread and Butter" from his new collection, he writes: The last thing I want to do is risk losing your confidence by appearing to lay it on too thick.

Our question today is to poets: How do you get people to read and to listen? Give us a call. 800-989-8255 is the phone number. Email us, You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, white men and diversity from the Ask A White Man columnist, but first, Billy Collins joins us from member station KUOW in Seattle. His new collection is titled "Horoscopes for the Dead." And it's great to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.

Mr. BILLY COLLINS (Poet): Nice to be with you. It's nice to be with you today.

CONAN: And I have to say that some poets grumble in reply to your criticism by saying: Well, your stuff doesn't exactly challenge your readers.

Mr. COLLINS: Well, that's - I consider that a form of ankle-biting, but I think my poems are slightly underrated, and by the word accessible, which has become kind of like the sound of chalk on a blackboard to me, or nails on a blackboard.

I think accessibility is actually, in poetry, a strategy for me. It's a way of getting the reader into the poem, you know, access the poem. Once the reader gets into the poem, I'm hoping that less accessible things start happening as the reader is moved into worlds that are a little more challenging, a little more hypothetical, and finally a little more mysterious.

CONAN: I was wondering if - do you have a copy of your new book with you?

Mr. COLLINS: I've been staring at it for the last two weeks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Okay, well in that case...

Mr. COLLINS: Here it is.

CONAN: I was wondering if you could turn to a poem that's on Page 66, "Winter in Utah," if you would read that for us and then explain to us about that process that you were just talking about and how it applies to this poem.

Mr. COLLINS: Okay, "Winter in Utah." The road across a wide, snowy valley could not have been straighter, as if someone had drawn it with a ruler, which someone probably did, on a table in a surveyor's office a century ago with a few other men looking over his shoulder.

We're out in the middle of nowhere, you said, as we bisected the whitened fields, a few dark bison here and there, and I remember two horses snorting by a shed. Or maybe a little southwest of nowhere, you added, after you unfolded the map of the state.

But that night, after speeding on sleds down a road of ice, the sky packed with stars and the headlights of our host truck blazing behind, it seemed we had come a little closer to somewhere, and in the morning, with the snow sparkling and the rough white mountains looming, a magpie flashed up from a fencepost, all black and white in its airy exertions, and I said good morning to him on this first day of the new decade, all of which left me to wonder if we had not arrived at the middle of exactly where we were.

Well, what would you like to know about that?

Mr. COLLINS: Well, so you draw us in by that picture you paint of someone in a surveyor's office a century ago, something I think we can all see in our minds.

Mr. COLLINS: Right. Well, I just kind of had the idea of the ruler, and then I took it more literally and got us into a surveyor's office. And I guess one of the things the poem does with - I mean, most poems are very - if you don't have a sense of playfulness with language, right, there's no hope for you as a writer or a poet, particularly, but I just took that cliche, we're out in the middle of nowhere, said by my companion and then expanded it into feeling that maybe we had come closer to somewhere.

And at the end of the poem we actually arrived in the middle of exactly where we were. So it's a poem about getting located, and that sense of being at the center of things occurs through this natural setting, you know, the appearance of the sparkling snow, the mountains and then finally this bird that looms up.

I know in Ireland, when you see the first magpie of the day, you're supposed to tip your hat and greet him, say good morning, sir. So there's a little folk tale in back of that saying hello to the magpie.

And then the poem tries to resolve itself. It's the first day of a new decade. So there's a time sense there. And then there's the - we're right in the middle of where we are. So it's sort of accepting - here you are, here you jolly well are and, you know, just accepting the fact that you're just where you are.

CONAN: And some of the playfulness involves being a little southwest of nowhere, a little more precise than in the middle of nowhere. Then you get to more and more precise - a little closer to somewhere and then finally in the middle of exactly where we are.

Mr. COLLINS: Well, yes. By increment we are inching into where we are.

CONAN: And so the other question that we're going to ask the other poets who are going to call in today: How do you get an audience?

Mr. COLLINS: Well, you know, I'll tell you the truth. It's - NPR has a lot to do with whatever audience I've managed to gather. I mean, I think radio is such a perfect medium for the transmission of poetry, primarily because, you know, there just is the voice, there's no visual distraction.

And also, when you hear a poem on the radio, you're usually not expecting to hear it. You know, many people who tuned into your show today probably weren't expecting to hear poetry. And if listeners are kind of ambushed in that way, if a poem just happens to be said while they're listening to the radio, the listener doesn't have time to deploy their - you know, what I'd call these poetry deflector shields that were installed in high school, and there's little time to resist the poem.

So NPR has given me a much broader audience than the kind of audience that I started having when I was reading poems to, you know, a dozen people in a church basement somewhere. But I also think maybe the internal reasons are - I think readers like a certain mix of clarity and mysteriousness.

And I think poems that remain completely clear and un-mysterious to the end are a little flat, and they don't journey anywhere, and then there are poems that tend to be mysterious from the first line to the last line. I like poems that - I'm trying to write poems that involve beginning at a known place and ending up in a slightly different place, although that last poem was a bad example because we start in the middle of nowhere and we end up exactly where we are.

But in most of my poems, I'm trying to shift, I'm trying to take a little journey from one place to another, and it's usually from a realistic place to a place in the imagination.

CONAN: We're talking with Billy Collins, his new collection, "Horoscopes for the Dead." We want to talk with poets today. How do you get an audience? 800-989-8255. Email us, And we'll talk with Leah(ph). Leah's on the line with us from St. Louis.

LEAH (Caller): Hi. I have to say that I have all your books, and I can't want to go out and get the new one. Mr. Collins, you're a personal hero.

I think that poetry is less intimidating to the reader when it contains humor, as you so often do in your poetry. And I want to thank you particularly, of all your work, "The Lanyard" is the best summation of the parent-child relationship in the world. It's just the best poem ever. Love it.

Mr. COLLINS: Well, thank you very much for that.

CONAN: How do you get an audience, Leah? Are you a poet?

LEAH: I'm a sometime poet. I've published other works, but I haven't published poetry. And I write it mostly for my own pleasure and amusement, or you know, there might be a book coming together here at some point. But I suppose it'll end up being self-published, given the climate and the publishing industry being what it is. If I put it together, it's going to end up self-published, I suppose.

CONAN: Well, good luck with that, Leah.

LEAH: Thank you.

CONAN: And I wonder, Billy: Do you make a living writing poetry? I mean, when the IRS form, you file your taxes, do you write job description, poet?

Mr. COLLINS: Well, I can't tell you, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COLLINS: Well, no, I've always been a teacher. I mean, my - you know, my miniature biography is that, you know, I went to school, I loved staying in school. I got a Ph.D., and when you get a Ph.D., in this case in English literature, they tell you you can't go to school anymore. So you have to do something else.

And I began teaching college in my early 30s, and I've been a professor ever since. The poetry really emerged quite belatedly for me. I didn't get my first book published till I was 40, or in my 40s. And what happened to me was I used to be, as someone put it, a friend of mine put it, I used to be a professor who happened to be a poet, and I've changed into a poet who happens to be a professor. So there was a kind of tipping point where the poetry, the shadow of the poetry was longer than the shadow of the professorship.

So I wouldn't suggest quitting anyone's day job to be a poet. But, you know, one can sell books. It's an interesting life. One travels around, gets to see the country and gets to talk to people on the radio.

CONAN: There are worse things to do. Let's go next to Michael, Michael with us from Portland.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hello, how are you today?

CONAN: I'm well, thank you.

Mr. COLLINS: Very good.

MICHAEL: Very good. It's a very exciting discussion, just the idea of accessibility and poetry becoming more so, rather than a maybe a capital-A art, is something I find very important here in Portland.

CONAN: And are you a poet, Michael?

MICHAEL: I am a poet. And I am also involved in a community arts education program, the Multnomah Arts Center, through Portland Parks and Recreation.

CONAN: And how do you find an audience?

MICHAEL: Well, there's all sorts of ways to find an audience. In particular with the art program is - well, we try to build our audience through engaging those that directly know the poets but also making the poetry more accessible and being available to anyone trying to really make a safe environment to learn about writing poetry and just to trust yourself and what you want to express about yourself.

CONAN: I was interested when Billy Collins said a few minutes ago those deflectors, those poetry deflectors that we all acquired in high school, do you find your audience has those, Michael?

MICHAEL: I think it's certainly a mixed audience. There are those that come into it with a very specific idea of what poetry is, and maybe it even needs to be written in a certain way or certain cadences.

But we, I think, very much enjoy exploring the other worlds of poetry and maybe into the extreme of even found poetry. What we're very interested in doing is (technical difficulties) poetry more available to the general public. And we're actually taking...

CONAN: Michael, I'm afraid we're going to have to leave it there. But thanks very much for the phone call.

MICHAEL: Oh, very much, thank you.

CONAN: We're talking with Billy Collins today about his new book of poems. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

We're talking with Billy Collins, former U.S. poet laureate, once dubbed America's most popular poet. As the host of a radio talk show, I appreciated one of the poems in his latest collection. It's a short piece titled feedback:

The woman who wrote from Phoenix after my reading there to tell me that they were all still talking about it just wrote again to tell me they had stopped.

I think we hear from that same woman from time to time. In any case, there are dozens of poems in Billy Collins' new collection, "Horoscopes for the Dead." You can read several of them, including the title poem, at our website. Go to Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We're going to talk about the art and business of poetry and poets. How do you get read? How do you get people to listen? 800-989-8255. Email us,

I'm sorry, Billy Collins, I didn't mean to cut you off there.

Mr. COLLINS: No, I think, Neal, one of the - talking about the audience for poetry, I think one of the chief peculiarity of that audience is that it's made up largely of other poets. And it's interesting that the two callers so far have - are self-confessed poets.

CONAN: But we did ask for poets to call in, but yeah.

Mr. COLLINS: Okay, that's - all right, well, that's a specialized audience. But I think it's - you know, when I was poet laureate, I got interviewed quite a bit, and there were two - the two most commonly-asked questions were: One, how do you account for this incredible renaissance in poetry, all this poetry activity and open microphones and books being published? And two: How come no one reads poetry anymore?

And, I mean, I found the way to answer this was that: Yes, there's a tremendous amount of poetry activity going on, which extends out to -from trade houses to self-publishing and open microphones and poetry slams and lots of poetry magazines.

But the audience for poetry tends to be poets. I mean, it - by and large. And I think, you know, one of the aims - I don't have this as a goal, but one of the aims that we might think of as a culture is to kind of break that circle.

You know, everyone at a baseball game, you know, doesn't - isn't a baseball player, although I've noticed there's this kind of sociological switch that happened in our culture at some point, where people who are attending sporting events dressed up like the players.

There was a time, you know, when men wore suits and ties to baseball games, but that's gone with a lot of other things. But I think that's the nature of American poetry is the audience is comprised mostly of other poets.

CONAN: You remind me, Stanley Kunitz, a poet with a very long career, toward the end of that career, you mentioned you work in teaching poetry, he did, too. And said, he wondered at the end - near the end of his very long life if the transformation of poetry into an academic discipline was an altogether benign process.

Mr. COLLINS: Well, I think - I mean, that will go on anyway. I think there are alternatives, obviously, to - I mean, the idea of academic poetry is tied in, I think, in my mind, with the idea of critical analysis, you know, of the teaching of poetry, tends to offer poetry that requires interpretation.

I mean, you could almost, in a cynical way, think this is - I mean, teachers of poetry teach difficult poetry because it makes - it ensures their usefulness as people that kind of stand between the reader and the poem and provide interpretive services.

So I think that's one - you know, we tend to have bad experiences, a lot of us, with poetry in high school or even college in that poetry becomes associated with anxiety. That is to say, in a classroom, every time you hear a poem recited, you know that there's going to be - questions will follow.

It's a great way to get to break eye contact. You know, just read a poem, and everyone's looking at the shoes or out the window. So this sort of sequence - hear a poem and then get interrogated over it - I think there's lingering anxieties about that.

CONAN: Let's go to another caller. This is Rick(ph) and Rich with us from Sarasota.

RICK (Caller): Hey.

CONAN: Hi, Rick, you're on the air.

RICK: If trees could walk, what would they do? Would they protest and eschew fair treatment under laws of man by gathering to take a stand, obstructing traffic in the roads that recently were their abode? Ever peaceful, would they sign a treaty that might seem benign? Except they wouldn't get to choose the type of soil their roots could use to settle down to earth once more as stationary as before.

Barring desert's desolation, these lands might hold another nation of trees that hadn't learned to run, savage nobles in the sun. Then would a battle of the trees rain havoc down upon their leaves and mark a carnage strewn to reign with dead and dying trees and pain?

Let no further - let us no further gaze of this scene, no anthropomorphic, unserene. In terms of tree against the tree, we are the reapers, they are the fee of growth expansion, transportation, of mulch and trash, entire nations mindlessly, with dire machines that hack and grind so endlessly on every landscape far and wide, man's weapons in tree genocide.

CONAN: Rick...

Mr. COLLINS: Well, it's a good thing John Milton didn't call...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RICK: Hey, that's how you get people to listen to poetry: Call up national radio stations and read one, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And that one's yours, Rick?

RICK: Oh, yeah.

Mr. COLLINS: No doubt.

RICK: I got more if you want to hear them. I've got a whole book here.

Mr. COLLINS: Oh, yeah, we've got all day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RICK: Here's one, here's "The Tsunami."

Mr. COLLINS: That's OK.

RICK: (Unintelligible) upstairs in bed, a torrent of ocean fast poured her...

Mr. COLLINS: Neal...

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. COLLINS: Are you there?

CONAN: Rick, let's give someone else a chance, okay?

RICK: Thanks for not stopping me the first time. I really appreciate it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: All right. I thought you were going to...

RICK: Thanks for having your show, and thanks for have the ex-poet laureate on your show.

CONAN: No problem. I thought you were going to break into Joyce Kilmer there for a minute. But anyway. Let's see if we can go to another caller. This is - let's go to Jeff(ph), and Jeff's with us from Aline(ph) in Minnesota.

JEFF (Caller): Hi.


JEFF: Hi, my name is Jeff Johnson(ph). I teach at the College of Saint Benedict in Central Lakes College, and I'm excited to talk to Billy Collins. Do you remember me, Billy, from hosting you at St. Johns, sir?

Mr. COLLINS: Of course.

JEFF: Good to talk to you. How are you, man?

Mr. COLLINS: I'm very well, thanks. How are you doing?

JEFF: I'm well. The comment I wanted to make, as a very small writer and small poet, my life's work is about bringing poets to students. And I just can't say how important it is that teachers and schools work on bringing poets like Billy to young people because that's - that's I think the future, is making sure that students grow up with poetry, hearing it, reading it.

And when I busted a fire code, Billy, and had you in front of 400 people, that was a pretty big day in my teaching career.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COLLINS: That's good. We want to break fire laws but not by smoking.

JEFF: Yeah, (unintelligible). And I just think it's important to get poets...

CONAN: How much of your budget, Jeff, is devoted to bringing poets in?

Mr. COLLINS: Well, that was a different teaching life, and I had a wealthy donor then that was funding that program. And I brought Billy and Li-Young Lee and William Irwin and Jorie Graham.

And now I'm in a new teaching life, and I'm after grants and looking for donors that are knocked-out loaded to keep the program going. I'm hoping to bring Li-Young Lee to Central Lakes College next year.

CONAN: Well, good luck.

Mr. COLLINS: I told Jeff that he could sell all the marching band instruments if you wanted to get me, but fortunately, he had a bigger budget than that.

JEFF: I hope to get you back to Minnesota some day, Billy, so good to talk to you.

Mr. COLLINS: Good to talk to you, too, Jeff.

CONAN: Thanks for the call. Let's go next - this is Georgia(ph), and Georgia's with us from Syracuse.

GEORGIA (Caller): Hi, gentlemen. I'm so glad you're talking about this. I, in fact last month, I just released a book for teachers with my collaborator, Quraysh Ali Lansana from Chicago.

And we're looking at teaching poetry as an organic part of the teaching day for all (unintelligible) subjects. I personally now earn my living as a writer-in-residence in public schools. And we are looking at demystifying the poem, remembering that it's a piece of art to be experienced repeatedly and not just once, you know.

Mr. COLLINS: Here, here.

GEORGIA: The other thing, the metaphor I hit on that's working really well for me is I'm teaching as if we were a virtual video game, and every time we read the poem, and we question a word we don't know, we look at a line, we ask why the stanza was a certain way, we advance through that video game.

And that's a motif that all these kids know. And with the little kids, well, we're poetry detectives, and we've got official thinking caps and magnifying glasses and badges that identify us as poetry detectives in our imaginations.

Mr. COLLINS: I wish I had you as my high school teacher.

GEORGIA: That would be fun. I wish - that's why I'm doing it. Thank you for the compliment. But we - teachers and writers saw the value of this book, and Neal, I think it just got put in the mail to you recently.

CONAN: A-ha.

GEORGIA: We're looking at poetry as a voice for social justice. We're looking at it to teach core content areas and to demystify poetry as an art form because it's accessible if you take the time to read it multiple times.

CONAN: Georgia, thanks very much for the call.

GEORGIA: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an email from Earl(ph) in Alameda. I found that one of the most gratifying, effective ways to share my poetry is to wrap it in melody and rhythm. I've often heard that song lyrics derided are definitely not poetry, but I feel that this is as useless a generalization as any other.

When I look out and see people singing along to one of my poems at a performance, I know that the words have taken root and am able to trust that many layers of meaning will permeate my listeners' hearts and minds as they rehearse the lyrics to themselves, whether at one of my shows, when washing dishes, when driving or in the proverbial shower.

And so I just wonder: Is the form of a song, well, is that a good way to get people to listen to poetry?

Mr. COLLINS: Well, I believe they're totally different. I mean, I believe there's - there's nothing wrong with being a really good lyricist, but I think the use of the word...

is the form of a song, was that a good way to get people listen to poetry?

Mr. COLLINS: Well, I believe they're totally different. I mean, I believe there's - that there's nothing wrong with being a really good lyricist, but I think the use of the word poetry in there is misapplied. I think it's a kind of aspirational use of poetry, like these aren't just song lyrics. These are poetry. You know, this is poetry. I think they're quite separate.

I mean, the little test I give to students if they think, you know, rock lyric's poetry, I just say, well, let's see. Let's have a little test. Let's get all the instruments off the stage, you know, the - let's get the backup singers and everybody off the stage, all the drum set and the rest of it, and you come out with your song lyrics on a piece of paper in front of a microphone and read them out loud. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they're not going to hold up. I mean - because they're good song lyrics. So if you stand up in front of a microphone and recite the lyrics to "Come on, baby, light my fire," it's not going to be a good experience for everybody.

CONAN: Steve Allen used to do that in the old days of TV.

Mr. COLLINS: Yes, he did.

CONAN: No great fan, but "Tutti Frutti, all rooty," he would...

Mr. COLLINS: Shaboom, shaboom.

CONAN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COLLINS: He used to do that to great effect, and you can do that with almost any rock song, not simply ones that are kind of nonsense involved, nonsense almost.

CONAN: But great rock songs nevertheless. Let's go next to Adrianne(ph). Is that right? In Portland?

ANDRIENNE (Caller): It's Andrienne (ph).

CONAN: Andrienne. Okay, go ahead.

ANDRIENNE: Hi there. A really pleasure to have Mr. Collins on the show. I have a unique way of distributing my poetry in Portland. We have what we call poetry posts that are about four by four posts in the front yard and a box with a clear face. And I've been self-publishing in my front yard for, oh, about eight months now. It's a wonderful way to get my poetry out there to the people walking around the neighborhood. And I've had some comments from neighbors and clients of mine who've mentioned that they had read one of my poems.

CONAN: Unless you have a rather large billboard, aren't you limited to sort of Twitter-length poetry?

ANDRIENNE: No, not all. It's, you know, it's an eight by - eight and a half by 11-sized box that I slip a sheet of paper in each week.

Mr. COLLINS: It could be a little poem, just a two-word poem for sale.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANDRIENNE: No, it's like, you know, it's like a realtor's box. But it's got, you know, it's got enough room for somebody to stop by and take some time from their walk and read what I've published out there. And it's fun because I - as I - if I'm in my home and I can see folks walking by on the street and stop and watch them read, it's a unique position for a poet to be able to observe the reaction or non-reaction, whatever the case may be (unintelligible) out there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That can be dangerous too. But anyway, Andrienne, thanks very much for the call.

ANDRIENNE: Oh, you're very welcome.

CONAN: We're talking with Billy Collins about his new collection and about poetry. The book is "Horoscopes for the Dead." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And this is an email we have from Jesse: As a new upcoming poet, I play with language, making my work accessible to the reader, but it does challenge the reader. My difficulty is the subject matter I pick seems to be abrupt to the reader. How does one stay accessible and challenge the reader with subject matter that challenges beliefs without losing my self-identity as a poet? I'm not sure there's a quick answer to that.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COLLINS: I agree, Neal. I'm not sure. I think, you know, what's important is sort of the structure of the poem. In other words, people read poetry because they read - they love poetry. They don't read poetry because they're in love with the poet. And if you're - if you want to be successful as a poet, I think, or at least if you want to have a readership and if you measure success in terms of readers - which is only one way to measure it perhaps - but you have to pretend in your poetry that you love poetry more than you love yourself.

You have to give the impression that what you're really offering is a poem, not a memoir, not a - not the content of your life. Because the reader comes to it with a love of poetry. Now if your love of poetry overlaps, if it's evident in your poem that you love poetry, that will overlap the reader's love of poetry, and you have a linkage. But a lot of poetry spends - and unprofitably - spends a lot of time presenting the poet autobiographically, trying to make connections to the reader's, well, generally, misery.

CONAN: Indeed, several of the pieces in this new collection refer to Dante. So I figured you were repeating some of that fairly recently. But I wonder if there's somebody that you have been thinking about lately, who - you've read a lot in your earlier life and have come to reconsider as - say, wait a minute, I may have undervalued his or her work.

Mr. COLLINS: Oh, I think probably Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the English romantic poet, because when I was in school, I was taught the...

CONAN: "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," no?

Mr. COLLINS: That's the one I was taught, as well as "Christabel" is another one, and "Kubla Khan." And those poems were the ones that were presented.


Mr. COLLINS: There's a whole lot of set of poems called the conversation poems, including my favorite poem. I have one. It's called "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison." And discovering those poems made me reevaluate Coleridge completely, and I learned so much from the way he structures his poems, starting with something very simple, very conversational. The poem I just referred to starts with the word well. "Well, they are gone, and I must - here I must remain."

And after that very casual kind of hands-in-the-pocket beginning, the poem begins to accelerate and gain altitude. And very quickly, after a dozen or two lines, we have lifted up into areas of extremely exciting speculation about the nature of love, the nature of nature, the nature of man. And those kind of maneuvers, I think, are - I found in Coleridge and I tried to imitate.

CONAN: That kind of rediscovery can make you even go back and realize there's something to like even in that albatross hanging around that mariner's neck.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COLLINS: Right. That you never discovered before when you were 16 years old.

CONAN: Because you kept being asked questions about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Billy Collins, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Mr. COLLINS: Well, thanks for having me in, and thanks also for devoting this time to poetry. I think it's very important.

CONAN: All right. And thanks to all of the poets who called in and wrote us emails. The new collection by Billy Collins is called "Horoscopes for the Dead," and he joined us today from the studios of member station, KUOW, in Seattle.

Coming up, white men and diversity, are they the problem or part of the solution? 800-989-8255. Email us: We'll talk with the "Ask the White Guy" columnist. Stay with us.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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