Finding elation through the mundanity of life is revealed through writing

It has been remarked many, many times before that literature is something that always happens after the crowds have dispersed.

The glib statement might be that there is no happy poetry, as Dakin in The History Boys remarks, or that literature is always part of an afterthought. It only describes happiness, and never feels it. 

This reputation for misery complicates many present aspects of writing and reading. Firstly, how does one write about happiness? In more serious, dusty volumes it’s arguably more difficult to find, so how does one learn to write happily? What is the place of happiness in literature?

These questions are made troublesome by the complicated expectation that writers ought to be miserable, which is now something of an ironically self-fulfilling prophecy. The impoverished or mentally tortured writer archetype is destructive; it sweeps the arts further into a corner and frames the labour of writing like the labour of a martyr rather than the labour of a person deserving of pay and recognition. As musical artist Ezra Furman sarcastically notes, “And I’ve got a bright future in music/As long as I never find true happiness.”

The question about writing happiness is therefore also a question of realigning cultural perceptions of the arts. We reach to the arts in both sublime and mundane aspects of our lives, it therefore follows that the arts should be flexible enough to reflect or express a range of feelings. 

How could the sister of the bride punctuate her speech if not with a reference to some poem?

What would one do with one’s evening without literature or something like it?

A poem by Wendy Cope which has recently circulated on social media platforms Tumblr and Twitter might contain part of the answer; The Orange. It is a poem about mundane happiness, the completion of chores, and the enjoyment of a relatively simple life.

MACKAYAN: Poetry of happiness

By Ezra Meikle: Literature Columnist

The poem, like many of Cope’s poems, follows a regular rhyme scheme and rhythm, and puts plainly the facts of the matter. Other poems by Cope contain similar emotions, such as her poem Being Boring; she writes about her life in a manner that is both concise and playful. She gives the impression of astutely enjoying herself. 

Therapeutic Goals

Both The Orange and Being Boring are particularly satisfying given that Cope has spoken openly about her experiences in therapy and undergoing the kind of work that has helped her to live a more productive, meaningful life. Indeed, the sense that her happiness is earned is palpable in her poems too, “This is peace and contentment — it’s new.” 

Perhaps the reason for The Orange’s popularity, particularly among young people online is the goal that it represents. There is a post in particular which names the poem as a ‘goal’; the desire for happiness being made more sharp by economic and political anxiety, fear regarding mental and bodily health, and grief from recent cataclysmic events. The Orange is particularly special; it describes the happiness of a happy poet, one who has learned to take pleasure in chores and responsibilities, who takes pleasure in sharing an orange at lunchtime, and who relishes the freshness and relief of her happiness. 

The Orange is a reminder that contentment with one’s life is an achievable and worthy goal; to write and complete one’s work are labours worth completing, and there is joy in the simplest of things. It is a poem which ought to disrupt the grey cloud hanging over literature, and perhaps act as a reminder that writers are not destined for misery.

Meet Ezra on the Team page & in the Literature Department