Friday, April 15, 2011

Poetry Friday: Happiness

Again this week I'm sharing a poem I got in one of the two daily poem emails I'm receiving for National Poetry Month. (You can find information on signing up for these in this post.) Tuesday's poem from Knopf was called "Happiness Writes White." The poet, Edward Hirsch, explained, “The French novelist Henry de Montherlant coined the maxim, ‘Happiness writes white,’ which suggests that happiness is a blank that can’t be described. It simply doesn’t show up on the page." This thought reminded me of Tolstoy's famous line: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Tolstoy finds unhappiness more individualized and therefore more interesting; Hirsch wanted to show that happiness can be written about.

Happiness Writes White
Edward Hirsch

I am a piece of chalk
scrawling words on an empty blackboard.

I am a banner of smoke
that crosses the blue air and doesn’t dissolve.

I don’t believe that only sorrow
and misery can be written.

You can see the rest of the poem here.

I thought a lot about this idea of happiness being hard to write about. Is it boring? Is it banal? Do I write more when I am miserable? My level of blogging lately would suggest that I do, since as life becomes more normal, I write less. I am writing a lot off-blog, though: more than I have in years. I think I tend to produce more when I am emotional, whether the emotions are positive or negative. I do sometimes choose topics that make me happy, and recently I did the following poem about a gift from a student.


My student brought me
a plastic grocery bag of mangoes
from the tree in his yard.
They were green and smooth
and curvaceous.
He told me not to keep them in the bag
because they don't like to be hot.
I took them home
and put them in a wooden bowl
and watched them disappear
as we cut them up into orange chunks
and ate them for breakfast.

Teachers everywhere plan and grade
and hold their audience
with not much more than their voices
and get the occasional mealy apple
deposited on their desks.
I get a bowl full of the tropics,
delicate (keep them cool),
beautiful (look at them nestled there,
and see if you can help touching them),
fragrant (sniff),
melt-in-your-mouth delicious
(want some?).
Life sure isn't fair sometimes.

Ruth, from

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.


Janet said...

That's it. I'm going to buy mangoes next time I go to the store. (Though they will be poor cardboard imitations compared to yours.)

Jessica Stock said...

Ruth, this poem is great! I'm about to follow the link for your first poem- I am interested to read it, as I've been reading back through my history of posts I'm a little embarrassed at how woe is me they are, I've been wondering why I so easily write when things are difficult but have so little to write when they're good?

Mary Lee said...

Nope. I've never received a bag full of tree-fresh mangoes from one of my students. I DO continue to get chex mix at the holidays from a family whose former 4/5 grader in my class must now be a junior or senior in HS. That's about as good as it gets -- teacher food gift-wise -- for me!

Tricia said...

Our school arranges for pies during teacher appreciation week. I usually bake one to take in, and the teachers seem to appreciate them. But a bag of fresh mangoes: yum!

I've been helping type up poems for my middle son's 5th & 6th grade class. They've been doing poetry this year with a writer-in-residence, a local poet. One week's work was inspired by hearing "The Verb To Be" which starts "I know the general outline of despair." One of the boys wrote his on happiness!