“What the Poets Could Have Been” is from Julianna Baggott’s first collection of poetry, This Country of Mothers, published in 2001. The poetry in this collection can best be defined as stories of family and of change and growth. These are poems of childhood, of parents and grandparents, of miscarriage and childbirth, and of the metamorphosis from daughter to mother. This collection is dedicated to Baggott’s mother, Glenda, and to her daughter, Phoebe, which is appropriate, since the poems are drawn from Baggott’s own memories of being a daughter and mother. “What the Poets Could Have Been” fits neatly into this collection of memories and transformation.
Like her novels, Baggott’s poetry is autobiographical. “What the Poets Could Have Been” is from chapter four of the collection, which includes poems that do not seem to fit neatly into the other four chapters of this book. The poems in this chapter are about spirituality and religion, about death and torture during war, and about being a poet. What they all have in common, though, is the poet’s response to events or people. “What the Poets Could Have Been” recognizes the journey that Baggott undertook in becoming a poet. In this poem, Baggott explores several aspects of the poet’s creative process, including the importance of imagination and creativity in producing poetry. One important aspect of “What the Poets Could Have Been” is Baggott’s conjecture regarding what poets might have done with their lives had they chosen different career paths. Baggott speculates on the role that poetry plays in the poet’s life. She also wonders what poets would have done instead had they chosen not to write. She finally wonders if paying more attention to lectures in school might have made them more content.