Billy Collins, who served as the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003, spoke today at the annual Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in Napa Valley. Tough gig, right?

He may describe himself as “an amateur, a tyro” at wine, but Collins, often called the nation’s most popular poet, is obviously no slouch at writing, having produced 10 collections of poetry and won a Guggenheim fellowship, among many other honors, as well as being named New York State Poet from 2004 to 2006.

Here are a handful of our favorite insights, jokes and writing tips from his talk, titled “There Stands the Glass: Description and Story:”

  1. On audience: “We can always assume the indifference of the reader.”
  2. On revision: “You have to pretend you’re a stranger to your own writing.”
  3. On why we write: “Isn’t the purpose of writing to make other writers jealous?” (This, in case it’s not obvious, was a joke.)
  4.  On finding your own path: “If you detect that other writers are following a set of conventions, see if you can turn them around.”
  5. And what he does when he’s stuck writing a poem: “I try to picture the poem set in the typeface of The New Yorker.”

Collins also read several of his works, including “Osso Bucco,” and a favorite with the wine writers: “Hangover.”

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