Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins receives enthusiastic reception in The Villages

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins read his poetry to a very enthusiastic audience at Colony Recreation Center Wednesday evening. The evening sponsored by Beacon College in Leesburg was the kick-off for the college’s Salon Speaker Series.

Mary Westcott with Billy Collins
Mary Westcott with Billy Collins

Collins’ poetry had the audience laughing , clapping and sometimes reacting in appreciative silence when Collins read poignant poems about wanting to be the first in a couple to die or life as an only child after the death of your parents. This was Collins’ first appearance in The Villages; he joked with the crowd that he had searched his work and found only one poem in any way about golf. He had written it for Golf Magazine’s 40th anniversary issue. An audience favorite judging by the laughter was the poem from a dead dog’s perspective, letting his owners know from the great beyond everything he did not like about them.

The audience was full of poetry lovers and poets. Village of Ashland resident and poet Mary Westcott attended a workshop led by Collins in West Virginia many years ago.

“I was just getting started,” said Westcott, “I remember being so nervous to read my poems out loud to Billy Collins. I remember him telling us to write authentically.” Westcott, now working on her eighth book of poetry, had the chance to remanence with Collins about the workshop.

Carole Del Monte of the Village of Belle Aire enjoyed listening to Collins read his poetry on NPR’s Prairie Home Companion.

“His poetry just goes straight to the heart,” said Del Monte.       

Carol Guglielm and Ralph Gingery
Carol Guglielm and Ralph Gingery

Village of Tamarind Grove residents Carol Guglielm and Ralph Gingery were both Library of Congress employees during the time Collins was Us Poet Laureate, 2001-2003, and had opportunities to hear him do readings at the Library. “I really like the brevity of his poems,” said Gingery. “They give you a clear snapshot and lead you to think about things in a way you haven’t before.”

Collins now a resident of Winter Park is the Distinguished Fellow at the Winter Park Institute at Rollins College and is responsible for bringing in world-renowned speakers. He will be the speaker in November.

Beacon College’s Salon Speaker Series will continue at their Leesburg location. Next up is Unearthing Hidden Central Florida Popular History with Bob Kealing on Oct. 25. For more information on the  speaker series go to www.beaconcollege.edu/salon