Odes: Writing Toward Wonder

Lately, I have been drawn to writing odes. After years of writing poems primarily grounded in sorrow, loss, or grief, I find myself looking to write poems that celebrate rather than mourn. Kaveh Akbar has spoken about how important it is for poets to orient towards wonder, and I agree that a willingness to be dazzled is an important part of being a poet. I’m trying to focus on the small joys and specificities of my everyday life — the purple evening winter sky, or the friendly woman at the post office — that make me feel awe or gratitude. Poet Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude and The Book of Delights are excellent texts that explore these ideas with nuance and profundity. (For fellow podcast fans, I feel obliged to mention that This American Life recently did an awesome episode inspired by Ross Gay’s Book of Delights). 

Odes are a wonderful medium for exploring wonder. Traditionally, an ode is a poem that addresses, praises, or celebrates a person, place, thing, or idea. Some of my favorite contemporary odes include,  “Ode to Dirt” and “Ode to the Tampon” by Sharon Olds, “Ode to the Onion” by Pablo Neruda,  “Ode to Shea Butter” by Angel Nafis,  “homage to my hips” by Lucille Clifton,  “Ode to Autocorrect” by Martha Silano, “Ode to the Hotel Near the Children’s Hospital” by Kevin Young, “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong” by Ocean Vuong, “how many of us have them?” and “acknowledgements” by Danez Smith. 

What I love about these odes is how they vary so widely in form and content, but always find a way to praise or bless life’s mundanities. Some of the best odes (like “Ode to the Tampon”) are able to elevate a simple object into a sacred object. Reading these poems motivates me to pay closer attention to my life and to record what I see. 

Feeling inspired? I have included some writing prompts below to help you begin writing some odes of your own:

  • Write an ode to a year of your life. For example, “Ode to Seventeen”. 
  • Write an ode to an inanimate object that is in the same room as you right now. 
  • Write an ode that blesses something that has frustrated or disappointed you. For example, “Ode to the Flat Tire on 1-81.”
  • Take a walk. Pay attention to what you see, hear, smell, feel, etc. Look for moments of strangeness or beauty, like the cardinal in the dogwood tree or the decrepit sofa on the neighbor’s porch. Write an image-based poem that uses these observations. 
  • Write an ode to your body. Try to praise the parts of yourself that you don’t normally love. 
  • Write an ode about your favorite song, album, or musician. 
  • Write an ode to a physical place to which you cannot or will not return. 

 

Sarah Hansen

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