Five Affirming Poems to Celebrate Self-Love
With Valentine’s Day upon us, you might feel bombarded by jewelry commercials, all things red and pink, and overwhelming relationship pressure. Whether you’re partnered or single, Valentine’s Day has a way of making many of us feel inferior. Research shows that the holiday, which can already be dreary for those suffering from seasonal affective disorder, often leads to psychological distress. In fact, some have dubbed it one of the “saddest days of the year,” and publications regularly dedicate articles to coping strategies.
However, the rise of cathartic Anti-Valentine’s Day celebrations and fun Galentine’s Day hangouts proves that there are many methods for reclaiming the infamous Feb. 14. Perhaps one of the most powerful? Realize and relish in just how amazing you are all on your own. Recently, research delved into some of the benefits of being single, from having more time to develop your interests to stronger friendships. Celebrities like Emma Watson have taken a stand for singlehood, rejecting the assumption that everyone is looking for a relationship. Personally, though I’m currently in a relationship, I still like to reserve a night shortly before the busyness of V-Day to pamper and check in with myself. This typically includes takeout, a face mask, and a trip to the bookstore. Whatever your ritual, may these poems offer an opportunity to reflect on your first love: yourself.
It’s well-known that women face a societal expectation of marriage, which can manifest in everything from rom-coms to a random relative’s Facebook comments. In “Bride,” Smith circumvents this old-fashioned assumption to revel in her own independence and her intimacy with herself. Spend time with this poem anytime you want to make a vow to yourself.
“How long have I been wed / to myself? Calling myself / darling, dressing for my own / pleasure, each morning / choosing perfume to turn / me on,” she writes. “I am my own bride, / lifting the veil to see / my face. Darling, I say, / I have waited for you all my life.”
This poem, which contains the poet’s own name in its title, serves as a letter to his future self. In its stanzas, he imagines a time where he will be liberated from fear and grief, which will be replaced by self-acceptance.
“Ocean, don’t be afraid,” the poem begins, “The end of the road is so far ahead / it is already behind us.” Later, it continues, “The most beautiful part of your body / is where it’s headed. & remember, / loneliness is still time spent / with the world.”
Vuong says the inspiration for the form — a letter to himself — came from the poetry of Frank O’Hara and Roger Reeves. This Valentine’s Day, continue the tradition: Write a comforting or empowering letter to yourself in the form of a poem.
This poet and playwright, best known for the award-winning play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf, uses this poem to reclaim her magic after a breakup has left her feeling tarnished, or, in her words, like “some simple bitch / widda bad attitude.” She explores the familiar sentiment of losing not just a lover after a split, but also herself, and insists on once again finding her quirks, strengths, and the deepest truths of her being. Most powerfully, the speaker does not want to trade in her unique qualities for anyone else’s — a radical act in a society that profits off of the women’s insecurities.
“i want my arm wit the birth mark / & my leg wit the bike burns / i want my calloused feet & quik language back in my mouth,” Shange writes. “…why don’t ya find yr own things / & leave this package of me for my destiny.”
In “How to Triumph Like a Girl,” Limón writes about a common subject — the need for representation — in a decidedly uncommon way: by poetically admiring female racehorses. She relates to the horses’ quiet confidence, a self-assurance she also boldly carries in a male-dominated world.
She writes that possessing this shared confidence makes it “as if this big / dangerous animal is also a part of me, / that somewhere inside this delicate / skin of my body, there pumps / an 8-pound female horse heart, / giant with power, heavy with blood / …the huge beating genius machine / that thinks, no, it knows / it’s going to come in first.”
This revelatory poem acknowledges that there are times when we feel distracted from or disenchanted with ourselves. Ultimately, however, the speaker rejoices in returning to themselves. This speaker parts with false past loves in order to embrace the fuller, more true love of the self, acknowledging this as a fulfilling companionship.
“The time will come,” Walcott declares, “when, with elation / you will greet yourself arriving / at your own door, in your own mirror / and each will smile at the other’s welcome / …Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, / the photographs, the desperate notes, / peel your own image from the mirror. / Sit. Feast on your life.”
Whichever way you choose to celebrate, Happy Valentine’s Day!