The speaker of the poem portrays himself as being “wildly unprolific.” He spends more time not writing than writing. And what he is writing is wrong, "unprolific" is not a word. The irony is that all these unwritten poems are these great masterpieces. They are the best poems ever. I imagine Trump’s response to writing poetry “I haven’t written anything yet. But when I do, they will be the best you have ever read. Nobody does poeming better than Trump.” Although, the difference is that the speaker in the poem is self deprecating and Trump is just too perfect to have any faults. That difference is Yuge!
“The poems I have not written
would compel all other poets
to ask of God: "Why do you
let me live? I am worthless.
This poem is about the failed attempts at works by the speaker. I get it. I can attest to what many writers say is the worst part about being a writer--writing.
Ain’t that a catch?
And it is.
I often think that I wish I wasn’t compelled to do this. It takes up so much time and nothing ever seems to look on the page as great as it sounded my head. But why I bother is because I cannot not do this. Even while cleaning I have that moment where I think, well what if this were human pee? What kind of person pees on a floor and leaves it there? What would compel this person? Who is this person? What’s their story? I cannot help myself so I write.
There is also much I can do in my writing I cannot do in real life, like live in a mansion and hire staff to do all that dirty work.
That is the other catch.
I am able to escape into any realm I want with writing and reading but the realm called reality gives me little time to do that during the days. And so that American classic continues on in my head but doesn’t get on the page. It goes unwritten because my times runs out.
I think of that classic short essay, Why I Want a Wife, by Judy Brady. It was published in 1972 and then published again in 1990 in Ms. Magazine.
It starts off, “I belong to that classification of people known as wives. I am A Wife. And, not altogether incidentally, I am a mother.” She continues that a guy friend of hers is looking for another wife after his recent divorce. While ironing she realizes, she too, wants a wife to assist her with it all: handling the home so she could go back to school, handling her children so she could actually rest on a vacation, even handling things in the bedroom, etc.
Even though this essay is satirical, I can’t help to think how I, too, would love a wife so I could write more. When the show Big Love was on HBO, the show about polygamy, I would joke with my husband that I would be fine with him having more wives than just me. I would gladly welcome them if they were good cooks and great cleaners and ugly. I would happily welcome them in the bedroom to do the suckiest
the dust bunnies out from under the bed.
I’d be popping out books at the same rate as James Patterson and writing poems like Dickinson.
But, like the speaker realizes in The Poems I Have Not Written is
“reproofs, would divert its course
to sweep down and then pass over
the poems I have not written,
and the life I have not lived, the life
I’ve failed even to imagine,
which they so perfectly describe.”
I wouldn’t have much to write about if these wives were with my child, taking over my chores, blowing in the bedroom. I need to live life to have something to write about.
So, although I am not physically sitting at my computer writing, it doesn’t mean I am not writing. So I don’t think writers mean “writing” is the worst part. I think they mean leaving the world, where so many stories are, to sit alone and focus on which story they want to tell right is the worst part. That desire for perfection makes us all great procrastinators. Even in my tasks today, most could have waited while I wrote. I don’t need a wife. I just need to write.
My husband could probably use another husband though. His “Honey Do” list is not getting any shorter. He's a busy man.
Don’t worry about if its the perfect time or not, go ahead and read The Poems I Have Not Written by John Brehm here: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/poems-i-have-not-written