Billy Collins: Get influenced by people who make you jealous

Poet Billy Collins on finding your voice:

Your voice has an external source. It is not lying within you. It is lying in other people’s poetry. It is lying on the shelves of the library. To find your voice, you need to read deeply. You need to look inside yourself, of course, for material, because poetry is something that honors subjectivity. It honors your interiority. It honors what’s inside. But to find a way to express that, you have to look outside yourself.

Read widely, read all the poetry you can get your hands on. And in your reading, you’re searching for something. Not so much your voice. You’re searching for poets that make you jealous. Professors of writing call this “literary influence.” It’s jealousy. And it’s with every art, whether you play the saxophone, or do charcoal drawings. You’re looking to get influenced by people who make you furiously jealous.

Read widely. Find poets that make you envious. And then copy them. Try to get like them.

You know, you read a great poem in a magazine somewhere, and you just can’t stand the fact that you didn’t write it. What do you do? Well, you can’t get whiteout, and blank out the poet’s name and write yours in — that’s not fair. But you can say, “Okay, I didn’t write that poem, let me write a poem like that, that’s sort of my version of that.” And that’s basically the way you grow.

Read the full quote here.


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