By Jeffrey Harrison
There is always someone who suggests
that his poems would be far better than yours
if he’d only bothered to write them. What’s more,
he would have handled the whole enterprise
with more grace and aplomb than you ever did
had he chosen to write those poems instead of
making a killing in investment banking.
And yet you keep going, even in the knowledge
that the poems you are writing are not as good
as his poems, the ones he didn’t write . . .
and, for that matter, not even as good as the ones
you didn’t write. “Your poems would be better
if you didn’t write them” is either a Zen koan,
a quip by Yogi Berra, an insult, or just nonsense,
which is why no one says it. I hate the idea
that any poem written down is somehow
inferior to a poem that does not exist.
Yes, plenty of bad poems have been written,
but out of all the poems that have gone
unwritten, there’s not a single one I love.
Jeffrey Harrison is the author of six books of poetry, including Between Lakes (Four Way Books, 2020) and Into Daylight (Tupelo Press, 2014), winner of the Dorset Prize. A former NEA, Guggenheim, and Bogliasco Fellow, his poems have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies, in- cluding Best American Poetry and the Pushcart Prize volumes. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Paris Review, The Yale Review, The Hudson Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, Literary Imagination, and elsewhere.