Happy poetry

When thinking of poets I tend to think of rather anxious, wallflower prone people. For the most part this is probably based around my own experiences and those represented on TV. Before I actually wrote poetry I would wax-poetic in my head at school events I felt I did not fit in at. I’m sure all that stuff is better off not having been introduced to the page, it was probably pretty cringe inducing, but all the same it was a good coping device. I felt like an outsider with a purpose which is better than just being an outsider.

I’m more confident and happy these days, and I’ve tried to make my writings follow me down this same path, but have found that a little more difficult. I feel that a slightly estranged feeling powers a lot of my writings. I’ve successfully banned myself from using the word “lonely” or “loneliness” in my poetry, as I used it far too much anyways, but still feel that a lot of my writing has a lonely tone. When I try and write happy poetry it all together fails, or comes out as happy with a morbid edge.

I’ve been sort of annoyed by this lately, I think some of my more cheerful thoughts are as interesting, if not more so, than my melancholic fifteen year old one’s, but I have far more trouble getting them down on paper. One way in which I aim to remedy this is in perhaps seeking out some happier poets. I’ve read a bit of Walt Whitman and he certainly seems to have things figured out, but overall it’s a little tough finding the elusive happy poet.

It’s got me curious as to what the poetry of a really confident and stable writer would look like. The poetry of popular high school football or soccer players for instance. The stanzas of well adjusted people enjoying their day to day existence. The poetry of someone who, wouldn’t generally be seen as someone in need of poetry. If anyone has any recommendations I’d love to check them out and hopefully draw some inspiration from them.

4 Replies to “Happy poetry”

  1. Hey Henry,
    I’ve thought about this a lot! I was a little bit depressed in high school (though never clinically diagnosed, though I did go to therapy) and I wrote a lot of poetry then. I’m a lot happier, content, and more fulfilled now, and I find it hard to write poetry about my feelings of joy and contentment. It seems easier to write poetry when I’m in a sad place, and I find it much harder to write poetry now, though I have many more tools at my disposal.

    So I don’t have much in the way of suggestion, but something I’m learning is that it’s best to be honest in my poems. Readers can smell feigned sadness/discontentment from a mile away and they really don’t like it. I’m glad that you don’t feel as lonely now as you did in high school; that’s something to celebrate! Let your poetry be a celebration, but most importantly, let it be honest. When I try to write things disgenuinely they often fall flat.

  2. Henry,

    This might sound clinical, but I think of poetry as a means of articulation. I think that effective writing organizes, nuances, or otherwise clarifies thought.

    I consider this approach to be a means of allowing for the possibility of positivity. As for reading suggestions, Ross Gay’s “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude” is a good place to start. I love Rita Dove’s “Heart to Heart.” Pablo Neruda’s “Love Poem XIV” is such a classic.

    There’s always Charles Bukowski’s “One For Old Snaggletooth.” Yes, I know Bukowski is contentious, but I still think it’s a sweet poem. Czeslaw Milosz’s “A Gift” will always be near and dear to me. Paige Lewis a contemporary poet who has really mastered poems that spark wonder, joy. I absolutely love “Reasons to Wake You.”

    An addendum: it’s interesting that you ask what the poems of a “confident, stable writer would look like.” One writer I know is a fairly prominent poet who is, in every respect, popular and well-adjusted — he also models frequently. But, I haven’t suggested his work because I wouldn’t categorize any of it as particularly “happy.” His work is interrogative and, yes, full of emotion, but it’s emotional register is something that I think both you and I can access.

    Poems about joy, poems that are joyful, I think you’ll find, are rare. Poems about joy that aren’t also about love, even moreso. It’s difficult isn’t it, to characterize joy in a unique way — it feels so homogenous. As Tolstoy famously wrote, “All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

    Sadness is easy to personalize — joy isn’t. But I think you could do it.

    In my opinion, this phenomenon has nothing to do with being “well-adjusted” and everything to do with our inability to appreciate, elevate happiness.

    So often, we shy away from gratitude and warmth. It comes from a place of insecurity. To paraphrase The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it’s difficult to accept what feels undeserved. We embrace sorrow because we feel that this is the lot we’ve earned. Let’s change that.

    And it begins by believing in, practicing radical joy.


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