Bookshop Santa Cruz presents Billy Collins at UCSC on Friday.

As I sat down with a copy of Aimless Love, the new book from which poet Billy Collins will be reading at UCSC this Friday, I found myself quickly flipping through it, looking for a poem that typified his work. I was a bit hurried and unaffected as I skimmed lines about Cheerios, fish and dogs. And then, before I could even realize what happened, one poem stopped me dead in my tracks. Suddenly, tears were running down my cheeks.

This pattern—the mundane details of life giving way to the profound and moving—is truly Collins’ trademark. He says that he hopes his poems “begin in Kansas, and end in Oz.”

Collins draws his inspiration from everyday life. “It doesn’t take much—birds in a tree, sitting at a sushi bar, really anything,” Collins says of the inspiration for his poetry. His poems draw on the splendor of everyday life.

Collins has reached a popularity largely unheard of amongst poets. The New York Times called Collins “America’s favorite poet,” and he has been appointed national Poet Laureate twice. His appeal is due in part to the accessibility of his poems, and his work to move poetry back into everyday life.

“I think it is a great idea to take poetry out of the libraries, to see that it can have a life outside of the classroom, outside of the library,” he told Diane Rehm in a recent radio interview.

And to back up his reputation as “America’s favorite poet,” Collins has a robust publishing career: he has authored 10 collections of poetry, edited three anthologies and is frequently featured in top literary magazines. Aimless Love is his first anthology of new and selected poems. It includes the best poems from his previous four books, as well as 50 new poems.

Collins will be reading from this anthology, as well as answering questions and signing books at UCSC this Friday at 7pm, with tickets available through Bookshop Santa Cruz.

Bringing Billy

To get a writer as popular as Collins to read in a town as small as Santa Cruz isn’t always easy. Publishers are hesitant unless they are convinced there is a big enough audience to make it worth the author’s time.

“We had to go to New York and convince [the publishers] that we can fill the auditorium,” says Susan McCloskey, Bookshop Santa Cruz’s events coordinator.

Despite some publishers’ hesitations, Santa Cruzans show up. Bookshop Santa Cruz is now hosting its largest events at Santa Cruz High and UCSC, where they can accommodate more people.

One reason this area has a closer relationship to poetry than many others is that there is an organization dedicated solely to bringing poetry to the local lit scene: Poetry Santa Cruz. The group was founded over 13 years ago on the “dream of inviting poets from all around the country to read in Santa Cruz,” explains Len Anderson, one of Poetry Santa Cruz’s founders. They host dozens of poetry readings throughout the year, organize a monthly open mic and post other poetry events in the area.  

Many of Santa Cruz’s own poets are published in Catamaran, the literary and arts reader based in Santa Cruz. The journal also features many nationally known poets—in fact, Collins was published in its most recent edition.

Another great opportunity to check out the local poetry scene is the weekly poetry open mic every Monday at the Tannery. “I have been pleasantly surprised at the real range of styles that are appreciated, and the diversity of poets that are reading,” says Kevin Devaney, one of the open mic founders.

Devaney is also one of the poets who can be spotted downtown with a desk and 1920s typewriter, writing poetry for donations. “We actually made enough money writing poems that way to pay for the open mic’s sound system,” he says. “Our sound system is literally made of poems.”

Billy Collins performs on Friday, Nov. 8 at 7pm at the UCSC Music Recital Hall.