Poet Billy Collins Kicks Off Winter Park Institute

September 10, 2008

Billy Collins delivers the inaugural speech for the Winter Park InstituteFormer U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins kicked off the inaugural year of the Winter Park Institute on Tuesday, Sept. 9 with a public reading from his just-released book,Ballistics.

President Lewis Duncan introduced Collins, whom he referred to as the "pilot with the poetic compass." And Winter Park Mayor David Strong presented President Duncan with an official proclamation naming Tuesday, September 9 "Winter Park Institute Day," in recognition of the launch of the prestigious Institute.

Collins said he always wanted to be a poet, but he struggled because he wasn't a "miserable" person. "I read humorless poets in school," remembered Collins. "They were all dead, they were all white, they all had three names and they all had beards. Then I read Philip Arthur Larkin and he allowed humor back into poetry. I realized it didn't have to be a sad day."

Collins entertained the audience from start to finish with witty poems about everything from his dog to the names of housing developments to a photograph of a bullet piercing a book, which resulted in the title poem, "Ballistics."

Billy Collins signs books after his reading.
Collins signs books after the reading.

During the question and answer session, Collins described himself as a professor who happened to be a poet who is now a poet who happens to be a professor. He offered advice on how to learn how to write and encouraged students to read regularly and widely. "The whole idea of writing is getting influenced by the right people," Collins said. "The real teachers of writing are in the library... waiting to be read... and emulated."

In addition to Billy Collins, the Winter Park Institute's inaugural season boasts contemporary artists and scholars including Béla Fleck, Marilyn Horne, Linda Wagner-Martin, Robert Muehlenkamp, Michael Phillips and Steven Joel Trachtenberg.

In the long-standing tradition of Rollins College's commitment to advancing scholarly discourse, an exciting new project is underway. The mission of the Winter Park Institute (WPI) is to foster a vital community of scholarly engagement. To accomplish this goal, the College will bring together distinguished faculty members and thought leaders from diverse fields of study invited for limited residencies. The ultimate goal of WPI is to establish an atmosphere of enlightened conversation and capture the synergy created when scholars share information, debate issues and shed light on a variety of significant, timely topics.

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