joy: 100 poems

Wiman, Christian

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Anthology (Mixed Genres)

Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney
  • Date of entry: Jun-12-2018
  • Last revised: Jun-12-2018


"joy: 100 poems," edited by poet and editor Christian Wiman, is a collection of 100 poems that examine, in various ways, the state of consciousness we call "joy."  The poets represented here are for the most part well known, as are many of their poems.  But, happily, there are poems here that seem new, especially when viewed through the lens of "joy." 

A brief list of the poets, chosen at random, includes Galway Kinnell, Donald Hall, Lucille Clifton, Josephine Miles, Sylvia Plath, Richard Wilbur, Sharon Olds, Wallace Stevens, Yehuda Amichai, W.B. Yeats, Stanley Kunitz, and Thom Gunn.  Poems, again chosen at random, include "Plumbing" (Ruth Stone), "Tractor" (Ted Hughes), Laundromat" (Lorine Niedecker), and "Unrelenting Flood" (William Matthews)--titles that at first glance might not suggest "joy."

The book begins with an excellent twenty-eight page introduction by Wiman in which he discusses the various shades of joy we might encounter in our lives, examines closely some of the poems represented, and briefly comments on his selection process. 


In his introduction, Wiman, who began this project because he was "somewhat confused" about the meaning of the word "joy," writes: "I have found that, for me, the best way of thinking through any existential problem is with poetry, which does not 'think through' such a problem so much as undergo it" (page xiii). A majority of the poems he has chosen do not mention the word, joy, but most capture instead "A moment of insight, then, a spot of time" (page xv). 

Wiman, who has a rare form of cancer, knows that joy exists often in the presence of suffering: "Joy is the only inoculation against the despair to which any sane person is prone, the only antidote to the nihilism that wafts through our intellectual atmosphere like sarin gas" (page xxiii-xxiiv).

This is a collection of poems that should be read slowly, and then again, a pond dipped into in times of grief or in times of unbridled joy.  These poems are not sweet and they are not mere fluff.  Often they present paradoxes that must be pondered;  other times they hold imagery and metaphors of pure bliss. These poems are not religious, yet many touch on the concept of faith--not only in a supreme being but also in nature, in memory, in humanity, in the power of words. Here is the last line of the poem "A Poem for the Epiphany" by Pablo Medina: "everything is death, everything is joy" (page 75).


This collection would make an excellent gift for poetry lovers; for those experiencing, for whatever reason, the loss of joy; for those interested in the transcendence of life and the mysteries of faith; and for those who wonder about the meaning of joy in their own lives. 


Yale University Press

Place Published

New Haven and London




Christian Wiman

Page Count