poet Billy Collins

Billy Collins

#44 on top 500 poets


They say you can jinx a poem
if you talk about it before it is done.
If you let it out too early, they warn,
your poem will fly away,
and this time they are absolutely right.

Take the night I mentioned to you
I wanted to write about the madmen,
as the newspapers so blithely call them,
who attack art, not in reviews,
but with breadknives and hammers
in the quiet museums of Prague and Amsterdam.

Actually, they are the real artists,
you said, spinning the ice in your glass.
The screwdriver is their brush.
The real vandals are the restorers,
you went on, slowly turning me upside-down,
the ones in the white doctor's smocks
who close the wound in the landscape,
and thus ruin the true art of the mad.

I watched my poem fly down to the front
of the bar and hover there
until the next customer walked in--
then I watched it fly out the open door into the night
and sail away, I could only imagine,
over the dark tenements of the city.

All I had wished to say
was that art was also short,
as a razor can teach with a slash or two,
that it only seems long compared to life,
but that night, I drove home alone
with nothing swinging in the cage of my heart
except the faint hope that I might
catch a glimpse of the thing
in the fan of my headlights,
maybe perched on a road sign or a street lamp,
poor unwritten bird, its wings folded,
staring down at me with tiny illuminated eyes.

Poem Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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Comments about Madmen by Billy Collins

  • Bijay Kant Dubey (10/25/2019 1:50:00 AM)

    Who is actually, how to say it? Are the poets not mad men? Is poetry not a type of madness? As we fail to catch the moments of poetic frenzy so the bouts of madness. Poetry struggling for an expression.

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  • someone (12/18/2017 8:09:00 AM)

    annoying voiceeeeeeeee

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  • your name (12/18/2017 8:08:00 AM)

    cant stand that voice tho

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  • Joseph Pedulla (10/25/2016 10:47:00 PM)

    Awwwwwwwwww... so sweet. the poem itself is floating away. How much more poetic can one get than to conceive of one's own poem floating away from one? That must be fun to be so out of control as to seem so in control of something one has never taken the time to learn how to control- poetry itself. It's interesting that Collins sees the poem as something floating away from him. It actually is, and there's nothing he can do to stop it. He ought to start writing real poems for a change. Not this candy corn twaddle.

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  • Brian JaniBrian Jani (5/5/2014 3:54:00 AM)

    Very interesting piem billy

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  • Janvi Wadiwala (12/7/2008 11:34:00 AM)

    What are the humorous parts in this poem, because usually Billy Collins' work has comic...

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  • Richard Collins Jr (2/7/2007 8:53:00 AM)

    Loved it: and well written

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