Billy Collins, Lehman's Distinguished Professor of English, is the new State Poet. The designation to the two-year term was made by the New York State Writers Institute.
Professor Collins will receive the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit at a celebration on Thursday, March 4, at 7:30 p.m. at Page Hall on the University at Albany's downtown campus. The reading is free and open to the public. Joining him will be the new State Author, Russell Banks, a novelist, short story writer, and screenwriter.
When he was notified of his award, Professor Collins said that "moving from the position of United States Poet Laureate to New York State Poet Laureate might seem like a demotion or a drop in rank to the military-minded. It might even appear that I am heading toward eventually being crowned laureate of my zip code. But in fact, it is very gratifying to be honored again as a representative of poetry, this time by my native state where I grew up-more or less-and continue to live."
"We are delighted to work with Billy Collins," said Donald Faulkner, director of the Writers Institute. "And since New York State is more important in the literary world than the United States, we expect that Mr. Collins will consider this a step up."
The advisory panel that recommended Professor Collins to the post included Mr. Faulkner, John Ashbery, who is the present State poet, and poets Sydney Lea and Eamon Grennan. The citations, established in 1985 by the Governor and State Legislature to promote fiction and poetry within the State, are awarded biennially under the aegis of the Writers Institute. Awardees serve two years in their honorary positions and receive a $10,000 honorarium.
Previous State Poets have included Stanley Kunitz, Robert Creeley, Audrey
Lorde, and Richard Howard.
Among his seven poetry collections are "Nine Horses: Poems" (2002), "Sailing Alone Around the Room" (2001), "Picnic, Lightning" (1997), "The Art of Drowning" (1995), "Questions About Angels" (1991), which won the National Poetry Series competition, and "The Apple That Astonished Paris" (1988).
The Writers Institute of the State University of New York, located at the University at Albany, was mandated as a permanent State-sponsored organization through legislation signed into law in 1984. Celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year, the Institute provides a milieu for renowned and experienced writers from all over the world to come together with new and aspiring writers for the purpose of instruction and creative exchange.