Billy Collins, the bestselling poet and former U.S. poet laureate, brought his quick wit and dry charm to Featherstone Center for the Arts last Thursday, delighting a packed house with his carefully observed poetry and humor.

Much of Mr. Collin’s poetry relies on quotidian observations — of kids playing Marco Polo in a motel pool or newsreel footage of crumbling buildings. But his verse is punctuated with moments of irony or occasional bitterness. He frowned and shook his head when the audience let out a satisfied sigh at the end of his poem A Dog on His Master.

“That’s a sign that the poem has lost its ironic traction and slipped back into a canal of sentimentality,” Mr. Collins said.

Ann Smith, executive director of Featherstone, introduced Mr. Collins. — Mark Alan Lovewell

He added that he likes his poems with a twist or a jolt, ones that keeps the reader and the voice of the poet away from anything too misty-eyed.

Mr. Collins described his “persona” as a writer as “one of reserve and withdrawn delicacy… sort of an aesthete, an indoor nature poet.”

Asked by an audience member where he gets creative inspiration, Mr. Collins cited his years as a professor of English literature and his longstanding love of other poets and their work. But he said he didn’t get “ideas” just springing into his mind.

“’Relativity is an idea,” he joked. “I don’t really have ideas.”

It was standing-room only at Featherstone. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Mr. Collins has visited Featherstone every other year since 2007. His reading was so anticipated that wait-listed guests, unable to secure advance tickets, stood by the door and waited for the chance that a seat might open up. On Friday, he hosted a workshop at Featherstone for aspiring poets.

At the end of Thursday evening, he previewed a number of poems from his forthcoming collection Musical Tables. He told the audience that he’d always had an affinity for short poems and their poets. None of the poems in the volume, Mr. Collins explained, are more than three or four lines long.

“My editor thinks it’s a new phase in my artistic development,” Mr. Collins said.

He joked that as he gets older and his poems get shorter perhaps his creative energy is waning and perhaps soon there will be no poetry left at all.

Mr. Collin’s three-line poem 3 A.M. drew the evening’s loudest laughs:

Only my hand
is asleep,
but it’s a start.