Billy Collins is a New York-based poet.
The Trouble with Poetry, The Art of Drowning, The Apple That Astonished Paris
2001-2003 U.S. Poet Laureate; 2004-2006 New York State Poet
Which one or two American books or plays would you yourself recommend to the foreign leaders?
Robert Stone’s novel A Flag for Sunrise and, unavoidably, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.
Who in your childhood–for example, parent or teacher—encouraged you to read books, and which one or two books do you remember most fondly?
My mother gave me one of the greatest gifts an adult can give a child: she read to me nearly every day. Mostly children’s books, of course, then repeatedly at my insistence the animal classics, Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (50 million copies sold, it might be added) and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s The Yearling. My mother also had memorized hundreds of lines of poetry, which often found their way into her conversation. Reading and quoting were familiar parts of my growing up.
Which books by writers of the other G8 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom) have been most important to you as a writer?
The short stories of Alberto Moravia, the humorous writings of Stephen Leacock, Sartre, Philip Larkin, Thomas Bernhard—these are a few writers who belong in a list of probably a hundred who influenced me in some way.