‘That orange, it made me so happy’: 50 poems to boost your mood

2 months ago 21
Brian Bilston poet
Photograph: MacMillan

Brian Bilston
Poet and novelist

1) Hope Is the Thing With Feathers, Emily Dickinson
2) Poem [Lana Turner has collapsed!], Frank O’Hara
3) Not My Best Side, UA Fanthorpe
4) Aimless Love, Billy Collins
5) Survivor, Roger McGough

Poetry refreshes the parts that different words cannot scope and, similar the small vertebrate of Emily Dickinson’s Hope Is the Thing with Feathers, contains the spot to prolong america adjacent successful the “chillest onshore / And connected the strangest sea”. But a poem doesn’t person to beryllium explicitly inspirational to bash that. Frank O’Hara’s Poem [Lana Turner has collapsed!] hoicks america up disconnected the level with its sheer exuberance and breathlessness: we person nary prime but to beryllium swept along. And what could beryllium much adjuvant than a poem that pokes amusive astatine however ridiculous we each are, arsenic presented successful UA Fanthorpe’s wickedly comic triptych Not My Best Side, giving dependable to the characters successful Paolo Uccello’s coating Saint George and the Dragon. Of course, laughter tin supply the biggest pick-me-up of all, and determination are fewer poets funnier than Billy Collins. In Aimless Love, done celebrating a wren, a dormant rodent and a barroom of soap, helium helps america autumn backmost successful emotion with life. Finally, successful presumption of a strategy for coping with each that the satellite throws astatine us, who tin amended that offered by Roger McGough successful his abbreviated poem Survivor?

Kayo Chingonyi
Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian

Kayo Chingonyi
Poet and editor

6) “The satellite roseate implicit the bay. I had a batch of feelings”, Donika Kelly
7) Brand New Lover, Amy Key
8) Against Complaint, Roddy Lumsden
9) Caveat, Fiona Benson
10) From Blossoms, Li-Young Lee

I’m peculiarly moved by poets who sing from the rooftops, arsenic successful Donika Kelly’s fantastic poem – a tender though not sentimental pick-me-up for erstwhile you are truthful enamoured of idiosyncratic that you find yourself playing dilatory jams successful the aboriginal hours of the morning. The immediacy of tendency besides suffuses Amy Key’s Brand New Lover, with its woozy brushed absorption and tense interplay of disclosure and guardedness. When I find myself whingeing, the champion medicine is Roddy Lumsden’s Against Complaint, which affirms that astir stoic of maxims, “It could beryllium worse”. There is, successful truthful galore things, a tiny ace done which anticipation tin enter. Which brings to caput Fiona Benson’s gorgeous small poem Caveat (published below), which, work successful the midst of tribulations, volition surely gladden the bosom similar an empathetic manus connected the shoulder. And erstwhile I request to retrieve happier times I look to From Blossoms by Li-Young Lee, a poem which swells with hard-won joyousness similar a peach ripening connected the branch.

Ella Risbridger
Photograph: Gavin Day/from Ella Risbridger

Ella Risbridger
Editor of the anthology Set Me connected Fire: A Poem for Every Feeling

11) How to Triumph Like a Girl, Ada Limon
12) To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably successful the Next Stall, Kim Addonizio
13) Goodtime Jesus, James Tate
14) People Are a Living Structure Like a Coral Reef, Heather Christle
15) Poem successful Which I Practise Happiness, Joe Dunthorne

What I similar successful a poem is jokes, and what I hatred is simply a poem that takes itself excessively seriously. I emotion being spoken to straight by the poet, and I emotion a poem that makes maine consciousness we’re getting to the concealed bosom of everything: successful these five, that’s reached done rainfall connected a window, “lady horses”, bully wealth for a atrocious haircut and utilizing a guinea pig arsenic a telephone. Also, Jesus having a cupful of coffee. I emotion a poem that knows happiness is tough, adjacent if you “make it look easy”, similar Ada Limon successful How to Triumph Like a Girl (published below). I emotion Kim Addonizio for knowing that “joy is coming” (To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably successful the Next Stall, a existent banger of a title). I emotion James Tate’s Goodtime Jesus for its cleanable punchline: “Take a small thrust connected my donkey, I emotion that donkey. Hell, I emotion everybody”. And I emotion Heather Christle’s People Are a Living Structure Like a Coral Reef, particularly for her unabashed usage of the exclamation mark. I emotion poems astir connection. I emotion poems astir people. I emotion poems astir stuff. In the words of Joe Dunthorne’s Poem successful Which I Practise Happiness, “I emotion the piano./ I emotion existent crime./ I emotion the sun/ erstwhile it arrives/ similar a tray/ of drinks.”

Andrew Motion.
Photograph: Karen Robinson/The Observer

Andrew Motion
Former writer laureate

16) Epistle to Miss Blount, Alexander Pope
17) Epitaph connected a Hare, William Cowper
18) Hurricane Hits England, Grace Nichols
19) In My Country, Jackie Kay
20) Postscript, Seamus Heaney

The thought that poems mightiness beryllium an casual means of cheering ourselves up is capable to marque anyone consciousness depressed, particularly if the poems themselves are determined to beryllium cheerful. Remember Hardy: “If mode to the Better determination be, it exacts a afloat look astatine the Worst”. That mightiness overstate the lawsuit a little, but he’s close astir the narration betwixt (relative) optimism and realism. For this reason, 4 of my choices are poems that admit – with varying degrees of candour – what problems request to beryllium overcome, successful bid for their speakers to find equilibrium of immoderate kind. Boredom and isolation successful the lawsuit of Alexander Pope’s affectionate Epistle to Miss Blount; grief successful William Cowper’s seemingly small-scale (but successful information expansive) Epitaph connected a Hare; homesickness and the difficulties of home-making successful Grace Nichols’s Hurricane Hits England; and racist hostility successful Jackie Kay’s In My Country. In my 5th choice, Seamus Heaney’s Postscript (published below), an affirming occurrence is allowed to blaze much defiantly, but it’s inactive battered and blustered by the winds of the world.

Hannah Lowe Author Costa prize winner
Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

Hannah Lowe
Winner of the 2021 Costa publication of the twelvemonth for her postulation The Kids

21) Great Western Road, Donny O’Rourke
22) Belle Isle, 1949, Philip Levine
23) Beginning successful a City, 1948, James Berry
24) What the Living Do, Marie Howe
25) Looking astatine Them Asleep, Sharon Olds

The poems that assistance my spirits are those that find quality successful the home and everyday. Donny O’Rourke’s Great Western Road describes a Saturday good spent, a database of jubilant images that builds to a declaration: “God Glasgow it’s glorious / conscionable to gulp you down successful heartfuls”. Philip Levine’s Belle Isle, 1949 finds wonderment successful a teenage nighttime aquatics successful the Detroit River, “to baptise ourselves successful the brine / of car parts, dormant fish, stolen bicycles”. James Berry’s Beginning successful a City, 1948 mixes nationalist past with idiosyncratic remembrance, telling of however the recently arrived Jamaican migrant survives his archetypal nighttime successful England, ending with a headstrong optimism: “So I had begun. Begun successful London.” Marie Howe’s beauteous elegy for her member What the Living Do lifts my spirits by emphasising however the tiny things marque a beingness and should beryllium cherished, arsenic does Sharon Olds’s Looking astatine Them Asleep. I emotion the astonishment and precision of Olds’s usage of metaphor to picture her children sleeping: “oh the lad helium is sideways successful his furniture / 1 genu up arsenic if helium is climbing / crisp stairs up into the night”.

Andrew McMillan
Andrew McMillan Photograph: undefined/Urszula Soltys

Andrew McMillan
Poet and editor

26) Filling Station, Elizabeth Bishop
27) Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong, Ocean Vuong
28) Final Curve, Langston Hughes
29) “There is nary beingness oregon death”, Mina Loy
30) Provisional Eternity, Mark Strand

I’ve spent clip precocious searching for merchandise from my ain anxiousness and co-editing an anthology, 100 Queer Poems. The duplicate missions of trying to reorient my caput and immerse myself successful piles of poesy reminded maine of the solace a bully stanza oregon enactment mightiness bring. Think of that large ending to Elizabeth Bishop’s Filling Station, “somebody loves america all”; it often comes backmost to maine erstwhile I consciousness isolated oregon alone. The travel towards amended loving ourselves is possibly much important (and yes, I cognize RuPaul said that better). Ocean Vuong’s Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong (published below), with its invocation “Ocean, don’t beryllium afraid”, is simply a poem I often instrumentality to, arsenic is Langston Hughes’ fantastic Final Curve. Mina Loy’s “There is nary beingness oregon death” says it’s OK to beryllium successful the flux of things; it rejects absolutes, and its rhymes and syllables propulsion america guardant into possibility. Ultimately, my temper is boosted by conscionable being astatine location with my fellow and our dog; that reminds maine of a Mark Strand poem that hugs you with the warmth of a shared duvet, Provisional Eternity. It’s the simplicity of “this”, “this ne'er wanting it to end”; it reaches beyond sex, beyond lust, into a authorities of comfortableness and easiness betwixt 2 people. I utilized to person it pinned supra my desk, but present it’s conscionable connected the noticeboard of my mind.

Elif Shafak
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Elif Shafak

31) All Rivers astatine Once, Rumi
32) Ithaka, CP Cavafy
33) Remember How We Forgot, Lemn Sissay
34) [the] north[ern] [of] ireland, Pádraig Ó Tuama
35) Old Tongue, Jackie Kay

Poetry is profoundly personal. You mightiness conflict to explicate to yourself, fto unsocial to others, wherefore you consciousness affectional erstwhile you work a definite poem; however it remains with you afterwards, similar a puerility representation lodged successful your heart. Poems tin instrumentality you within, making you alert of parts of yourself you person neglected; and they tin besides assistance you up and transportation you adjacent and far, connecting you with radical and experiences beyond borders. When I was younger, for a agelong clip I assumed that being an immigrant, I could not afloat recognize oregon bask English verse; determination would ever beryllium thing I would miss retired – a breached piece, an invisible shard. That I came to adore speechmaking poems successful a connection different than my parent tongue, I beryllium to galore fantastic poets who challenged my fears and encouraged maine to dive in. Today I spot poets arsenic a people of their own, intolerable to constrictive down to nationalist boxes. Like Walt Whitman, they incorporate multitudes. First, I would emotion to urge All Rivers astatine Once by the fantastic Rumi, whose dependable is needed successful today’s polarised satellite much than ever before. This poem for maine is chiefly astir connectivity and compassion. I americium a large instrumentality of CP Cavafy, and I work his enactment clip and again - particularly Ithaka. Lemn Sissay’s dependable is simply a balm for our troubled times; Remember How We Forgot is incredibly moving. Pádraig Ó Tuama’s [the] north[ern] [of] ireland contains truthful overmuch pain, representation and resilience, it volition profoundly resonate with readers crossed the world. And past determination is the inimitable Jackie Kay: I emotion the courageousness and contented successful her Old Tongue.

Rishi Dastidar

Rishi Dastidar
Poet and critic

36) Delight successful Disorder, Robert Herrick
37) Hiroshima, 1961, Holly Singlehurst
38) Soulcraft, John McCullough
39) The Orange, Wendy Cope
40) The Tiger, Nael

“A good distraction” tends to beryllium what I privation from a poem to cheer maine up. My archetypal halt is ever Robert Herrick, and particularly Delight successful Disorder. I ne'er neglect to beryllium charmed by the beguiling twinkle that runs done it. Also beguiling is the mode Holly Singlehurst’s Hiroshima, 1961 frames the joyousness of playing with your shadiness and being bathed by sunlight. John McCullough’s Soulcraft ruminates connected airy too, a “private neon”, important for lifting him erstwhile “a flock of days descends / and my psyche flickers, goes to ground”. The poem rises from here, reminding america that thing arsenic elemental arsenic rainfall tin revive our spirits again. And if not the weather, however astir a portion of fruit? Wendy Cope’s delight successful the mundane is ever a tonic. The Orange (published below) is an exquisite illustration of this: who doesn’t emotion those uncommon days that are “quite casual / I did each the jobs connected my list”? For me, though, the champion temper boost is witnessing an underdog leader flooded formidable likelihood to triumph successful nail-biting circumstances. So I anticipation Nael’s The Tiger, written erstwhile helium was conscionable six, has you punching the aerial successful joyousness the mode I bash each clip I work it.

Indian writer   and writer  Tishani Doshi .
Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

Tishani Doshi

41) Recreation, Audre Lorde
42) Ode to My Husband, Who Brings the Music, Zeina Hashem Beck
43) An Attempt astatine Jealousy, Marina Tsvetaeva
44) I Will Greet the Sun Again, Forough Farrokhzad
45) Fucking successful Cornwall, Ella Frears

Partly due to the fact that I’ve precocious spent clip arsenic a caregiver, and partially due to the fact that authorities astir the autonomy of women’s bodies continues to beryllium truthful depressing, I looked for poems of the body, poems of desire, that could inject what Audre Lorde called the “lifeforce” into me. Let’s statesman with Lorde’s Recreation, which believes a assemblage tin beryllium made into a poem. I wanted to cod pistillate voices and make a web of ancestry betwixt them – so, the tenderness of Zeina Hashem Beck’s Ode to My Husband, Who Brings the Music contrasts with the bristle of Marina Tsvetaeva’s An Attempt astatine Jealousy. Then there’s the perseverance of Forough Farrokhzad, who brings america to the “love-filled threshold” successful I Will Greet the Sun Again, and the sheer sexiness of Ella Frears’s Fucking successful Cornwall - “Do you retrieve what it felt similar to excavation a spread each day/ with a tiny spade conscionable to ticker it capable with sea?/ I privation it similar that.”

Mary Jean Chan

Mary Jean Chan
Winner of the 2019 Costa poesy prize for Fleche

46) Canopy, Emily Berry
47) If There Is an Afterwards, Vahni (Anthony Ezekiel) Capildeo
48) Poplar Street, Chen Chen
49) Wild Geese, Mary Oliver
50) When the War Is Over, WS Merwin

Five poems travel to caput that mightiness connection solace during these troubled times. The archetypal is Emily Berry’s Canopy, which she describes arsenic an “anti-Rock-a-bye baby”: it’s astir endurance and connection, and I instrumentality to it implicit and over. I had the pleasance of rereading Vahni (Anthony Ezekiel) Capildeo’s enactment arsenic a justice for this year’s Jhalak Prize. In their latest postulation Like a Tree, Walking, If There Is an Afterwards stood retired to maine arsenic a shimmering poem astir nonaccomplishment and silence. My 3rd poem is Poplar Street, by the American writer Chen Chen. It concludes his debut collection, and is 1 of the astir hopeful poems I person ever work astir self-acceptance, emotion and forgiveness. The last 2 poems I person recovered peculiarly moving successful the aftermath of the pandemic and the ongoing warfare successful Ukraine: Wild Geese by Mary Oliver and When the War is Over by WS Merwin. Both are astir what it means to live, which is simply a question ever worthy asking.

Five poems for an instant lift

Illustration: Nathalie Lees/The Guardian

The Orange

by Wendy Cope

At lunchtime I bought a immense orangish –
The size of it made america each laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave –
They got quarters and I had a half.

And that orange, it made maine truthful happy,
As mean things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A locomotion successful the park.
This is bid and contentment. It’s new.

The remainder of the time was rather easy.
I did each the jobs connected my list
And enjoyed them and had immoderate clip over.
I emotion you. I’m gladsome I exist.

From Serious Concerns (Faber) © Wendy Cope.


by Seamus Heaney

And immoderate clip marque the clip to thrust retired west
Into County Clare, on the Flaggy Shore,
In September oregon October, erstwhile the wind
And the airy are moving disconnected each other
So that the water connected 1 broadside is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The aboveground of a slate-grey water is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, achromatic connected white,
Their afloat grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked oregon cresting oregon engaged underwater.
Useless to deliberation you’ll parkland and seizure it
More thoroughly. You are neither present nor there,
A hurry done which known and unusual things pass
As large brushed buffetings travel astatine the car sideways
And drawback the bosom disconnected defender and stroke it open.

From The Spirit Level by Seamus Heaney (Faber) © Seamus Heaney.

Poems to boost your mood
Illustration: Nathalie Lees/The Guardian


by Fiona Benson

But see the cactus:
its heavy hide
and parched aspect

still harbour a moist heart;
nick its rind, and sap
wells up similar sugared milk

from the store of water
held beneath its spines,
its armoury of barbs.

And, erstwhile a lifetime,
when the slant rains fall
there is this halo of flowers.

From Bright Travellers (Cape) © Fiona Benson 2014.

How to Triumph Like a Girl

by Ada Limón

I similar the woman horses best,
how they marque it each look easy,
like moving 40 miles per hour
is arsenic amusive arsenic taking a nap, oregon grass.
I similar their woman equine swagger,
after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
But mainly, let’s beryllium honest, I like
that they’re ladies. As if this big
dangerous carnal is besides a portion of me,
that determination wrong the delicate
skin of my body, determination pumps
an 8-pound pistillate equine heart,
giant with power, dense with blood.
Don’t you privation to judge it?
Don’t you privation to assistance my garment and see
the immense beating genius machine
that thinks, no, it knows,
it’s going to travel successful first.

From Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions) © Ada Limón.

Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong

by Ocean Vuong

Ocean, don’t beryllium afraid.
The extremity of the roadworthy is truthful acold ahead
it is already down us.
Don’t worry. Your begetter is lone your father
until 1 of you forgets. Like however the spine
won’t retrieve its wings
no substance however galore times our knees
kiss the pavement. Ocean,
are you listening? The astir beauteous part
of your assemblage is wherever
your mother’s shadiness falls.
Here’s the location with childhood
whittled down to a azygous reddish travel wire.
Don’t worry. Just telephone it horizon
& you’ll ne'er scope it.
Here’s today. Jump. I committedness it’s not
a lifeboat. Here’s the man
whose arms are wide capable to gather
your leaving. & present the moment,
just aft the lights spell out, erstwhile you tin inactive see
the faint torch betwixt his legs.
How you usage it again & again
to find your ain hands.
You asked for a 2nd chance
& are fixed a rima to bare retired of.
Don’t beryllium afraid, the gunfire
is lone the dependable of people
trying to unrecorded a small longer
& failing. Ocean. Ocean —
get up. The astir beauteous portion of your body
is wherever it’s headed. & remember,
loneliness is inactive clip spent
with the world. Here’s
the country with everyone successful it.
Your dormant friends passing
through you similar wind
through a upwind chime. Here’s a desk
with the gimp limb & a brick
to marque it last. Yes, here’s a room
so lukewarm & blood-close,
I swear, you volition aftermath —
& mistake these walls
for skin.