A lot of people spent this past weekend celebrating something. There was Passover and then Easter, either of which you might have gone home for if you’re lucky enough to live close to Ann Arbor. Either way, and even if you don’t observe these holidays, there was one event this weekend that swept the entire University as cause for celebration: We beat Loyola!
The basketball team is now on its way to the national championship, so since we’re due for a new Poetry Playlist, this one is going to follow the theme of celebration. I tried to track down some poems that feature outpourings of positive emotion and some that involve a quieter sense of happiness, so there should be a little something for everybody. And if you’re not celebrating basketball or Easter or Passover, then you can either take this moment to celebrate something else (You exist! School is nearly out! It’s springtime and soon you’ll be able to walk around outside in a tee shirt!) or you can skip this list altogether and find something sadder to read.
“Song,” by Muriel Rukeyser
If this poem doesn’t make you want to read every single thing Muriel Rukeyser has ever written, then I don’t know what will. “Make and be eaten. Lie in the arms of nightlong fire.” Rukeyser was known for her poetry and her political activism, both of which often centered on themes of feminism, social justice and Judaism. This is one of those poems where the diction itself is so electric that it demands the reader’s attention right out of the gate.
“Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude,” by Ross Gay
Ross Gay, one of the biggest names in current Midwestern poetry, is probably the king of poetic celebration. It would have been impossible to make a list like this without him. Once, a group of friends and I spent a night at a remote cabin for a makeshift writers’ retreat, and one friend read this poem aloud to the whole table over breakfast the next morning. There are few better ways to start the day, and I’d recommend trying it out, particularly on a day when there’s something extra to celebrate.
“What Is,” by Jeffrey Yang
Understated and peaceful, this one is a bit of a palate-cleanser after Ross Gay, but still well worth the read. It takes several themes commonly associated with serenity — community, nature, love, children — and condenses them all into several short but impactful phrases and lines.
“More than Enough,” by Marge Piercy
This poem is about June, so it might be just a little premature, but I couldn’t help it. It’s a beautiful account of nature and a welcome to the “season of joy for the bee.” Like Rukeyser, Piercy was also a social activist, plus she wrote a lot of poetry about Judaism — including this lovely one about the Seder, which you can check out in the spirit of Passover, if you’re so inclined!
“Odes,” by Fernando Pessoa
This one is kind of framed as a love poem, but it does feel like it’s in the spirit of a bigger kind of celebration, especially toward the end. I’m placing it at the end of this list because it’s soft and thoughtful, but also intent upon a kind of closure. The best lines come in the final stanza: “Nothing that’s you / Should you exaggerate or exclude. / In each thing, be all. Give all you are / In the least you ever do.” It’s a poem about appreciating moments, and people, for all that they are — and celebration is a kind of appreciation, after all, for the moment that you’re in and for the people you get to share it with.