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Joy in Poetry

Is the only joy in poetry the pleasure you bring to it in the composition or completion? Or is there room within the lines and content itself? Is uncomplicated happiness the final frontier of taboo of poetry?

rob mclennan speaking on Heather Christle’s third trade collection, What is amazing (Middletown CT: Wesleyan, 2012) says,

As much as poets complain that humour in poetry isn’t taken seriously […], an outright, articulate joy and optimism appears to have even less consideration, and even fewer examples.

I was thinking that myself lately.

Happy is hard to do well, perhaps even harder than grief because it comes around so much less in shorter glimpses. How to i.d. it in a lineup let alone replicate it?

Joy in verbal is hard not to have ring hollow. It is as colored and nuanced as melancholy but while sadness feels tangled, it helps the realness to bring in complexity, an optimism needs a cleaner palate to convey itself.

Christle has that sort of brisk, chipperness that insists on being silly.

As captain of the flowers I tell the flowers Look alive
and they listen They have evolved like an ear I have evolved
like a piano

and so it enjambs itself forward, hooking ahead in a breathless way. She’s got a weight and depth to having an ear compared to development over centuries, that paradox of each being from birth needing to get up to speed on what the combinations of various species on earth have worked out over the millennia.

A lot of surreal poetry sidesteps the lyrical habit of deadly taking-self-seriously in utter at length importance of being earnest. Some humour breaks the 4th wall with self-deprecation. Both tend to have a more depressive wit. You laugh, perhaps, but it accumulates a kind of weight.

There’s a despair under a nihilist edge rather than a zest for life. Likewise some humour has pathos but is leavened by clever. “Never stay up on the barren heights of cleverness, but come down into the green valleys of silliness,” said Ludwig Wittgenstein and she does run thru a range, this Christle not keeping to crystal palaces of poetics where there’s only happy harmony of bee hum and lover’s eyes. If she didn’t it would be in the brittle confines of a sitcom.

Some poetry stays in other brittle confines, never cracking a smile because that would be “out of register” or “distracting” from the tone or net effect. People want to stay as readers in a tidy little arc, or avoid tidy arcs. There’s an unspoken mandate to be poignant or profound or to not do that and avoid meaning. Either solemn suits of well-polished poems scratch at the collars. It is a good ceremony but doesn’t allow much allow for the silliness that life is by times.

How to navigate that expression of joy without falling into slightness?

The only subjects for a poem are mortality or sex, right? Or was there a third?

Does a balloon need a string to grave to tether it or will a hand do? What’s worth being heard without it becoming diverting amusement or tribute has a wide range.

Jessica Hiemstra-van der Horst wrote Apologetic for Joy and there is a delicacy that isn’t fobbed off, an attending to excruciating beauties, but it is around a pathos, amid funerals and helplessness against mental illness. It is a joy despite not a joy for its own sake.

[…] that a bee finds a flower
because it is the only urgency it knows, that a soldier finds a pocket
for a photo: a roof for memory to land, atop the boarded up room
of longing. The heart is where we store honey and purpose.

There’s something about grief that makes it want to crown itself king and lowest-common denominator that trumps all.

People feel it is respect to be emphatic and enter the lower slower tone of another. Are people as able to enter another’s cheer?

People feel unheard should they share a grief to be told of the bright side. Is it not also disrespectful to refuse to move into another’s joy?

Two states meet like water finding equilibrium. The grudge begrudges having to raise. Does the rain resent leaving the clouds and rainbows? A movement among the cycle is natural.

People are happy in poetry to capture and hold fixed the moment of lash or crumple or fear or panging of melancholy. How many can pause from the living it long enough to record the light heart’s beat?

James Henry Leigh Hunt did an exclamation simply in Jenny Kissed Mebut even then had to give a head duck to illness and mortality. Does Ogden Nash stay above the splashing fray of dour down, leaving that to what is already internalized within the reader to act as a countering agent?

Kristen Lindquist sustains that heady happiness in Transportation. Part of it works by the audience filling in their own experiences and expectations that counter what she describes,

Even before I descend into the trippy light show
of the walkway between terminals,
I am ecstatic. I can’t stop smiling.
On my flight we saw Niagara Falls
and Middle America green and gold below.
Passengers thanked the pilot for his smooth landing
with such gratitude that I too

The experience takes the writer by surprise and so can the reader by surprise too. The point of view sits against the usual responses to being herded about in mass transit, the jet lag and fatigue. Perkiness then, in the poem, don’t have to be countered by the poet who has already accomodated the reader in the order of reveal.

Whimsy is the feather some poets rode when personification wasn’t so overdone. Audrey Alexandre Brown converses with the Phoenix.

From a perspective across time it’s hard to not read her words as satire, even tho she eventually declares that willingness “to dare to die” “is evidence enough of Immortality” for the god-crew faithful.

Still, there’s a brightness to tone thru the poem, an optimism that just as man cannot live by bread alone, one can’t live by beauty alone either. Audrey then colors the joie de vivre with suitable death-drapes to make it properly poetic subject.

Stand-up comedy poetry, eliciting a chuckle and demonstrating word play, or genuinely playing in words, or self-deprecating quick wit, or gently humorous poetry of sweetness are all something that has a distance from deflecting the necessity of depressed self to be in every conversation but it’s not all joy. Exhilarated and compassion are states under-represented in poetry. Playfulness and whimsy are on the continuum and can, I’d speculate be done as well as woe.

If one can live a poem with grief alone as the internal consistency of the built-world, why not a poem that has joy alone?


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