In our column Poetry Rx, readers write in with a specific emotion, and our resident poets—Sarah Kay, Kaveh Akbar, and Claire Schwartz—take turns prescribing the perfect poems to match. This week, Claire Schwartz is on the line.
I am one of you. I have been for a while. I am also jaded and worldly and often write with plenty of saltiness, irony, and smarty-pants-ness (enough to be taken seriously). I teach my students to “avoid cliches like the plague.” I tell them to keep their crushes out of their poems at all costs. I tell them to find new words for new feelings and to always surprise themselves with what they pen and present to others. But lately, I’ve fallen in love. I’ve fallen in love and all I have are platitudes. Percy Shelley is not helpful. W. B. Yeats is not helpful. Christian Wiman is too sad. Most of the contemporary poets I read are too angry or skeptical for what it is I actually feel—relief and an overwhelming joy that I have found a human such as the one who last week surprised me with the delivery of a baby pumpkin (a baby pumpkin, poets!) just because.
Give me fresh eyes. How do I write of such happiness and adoration while … “avoiding clichés like the plague.”
Dear Dumbstruck Poet,
You don’t have platitudes. You have a baby pumpkin! And you do have fresh eyes. Love gives them to you. What you need now is to give yourself permission. Finding ways to wrap this ineffable feeling in language requires innovation. Words can’t ever entirely hold that thing, not really. That’s why there are so many poems trying to say, I love. E.E. Cummings: “love is more thicker than forget …” June Jordan: “I SAID I LOVED YOU AND I WANTED / GENOCIDE TO STOP” Ross Gay: “Here is a cup of tea. I have spooned honey into it.” There are so many shapes to that failure. There are so many things of beauty created in that attempt. Read More