Billy Collins is the author of ten books of poetry including Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems (Random House, 2013), Horoscopes for the Dead (Random House, 2011), Ballistics (Random House, 2008), The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems (Random House, 2005) Nine Horses, (Random House, 2002), Sailing Alone Around the Room (Random House, 2001), Picnic, Lightning (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997), The Art of Drowning (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995), The Apple That Astonished Paris (University of Arkansas Press, 1988), Questions About Angels (William Morrow & Co., 1991), which was selected by Edward Hirsch for the National Poetry Series, and She Was Just Seventeen, a collection of haiku. He has compiled three anthologies: Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day, and Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems about Birds (Columbia University Press, 2010). Collins’ poetry has appeared in anthologies, textbooks, and a variety of periodicals kincluding Poetry, The American Scholar, Harper’s, Raritan, The Paris Review, TLS, Raritan, The London Review of Books, and The New Yorker. His work appears regularly in The Best American Poetry. He has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, The National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He has also won the Bess Hokin Prize, the Frederick Bock Prize, the Oscar Blumenthal Prize, and the Levinson Prize–all awarded by Poetry magazine. He received the Aiken/Taylor award for poetry from the University of the South, the Hall/Kenyon prize, and the first Mark Twain Prize from the Poetry Foundation for humor in poetry. In 1992 he was chosen by the New York Public Library to serve as a “Literary Lion.” He graduated from Holy Cross College and received his doctorate from the University of California at Riverside. He is currently a Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College (CUNY) and a Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Winter Park Institute of Rollins College. He served two terms as United States Poet Laureate (2001-2003) and as New York State Poet (2004-2006).
You know the parlor trick.
wrap your arms around your own body
and from the back it looks like
someone is embracing you
her hands grasping your shirt
her fingernails teasing your neck
from the front it is another story
you never looked so alone
your crossed elbows and screwy grin
you could be waiting for a tailor
to fit you with a straight jacket
one that would hold you really tight.