In My Own Words...Michael Hettich


Notes on Like Happiness by Michael Hettich

The title of my new book of poems, Like Happiness, captures the tenor and substance of this collection more accurately than have the titles of any of my other books of poetry. These poems, I think, enact moments of vivid awareness and feeling that in their very manifestation feel, while they last, “like” the state of heart and mind we call happiness. Perhaps such moments of deep feeling—good, bad, confused, ecstatic—are in fact all we can ever know of happiness: flashes of vivid life that fall away in a breath or two—just as poems themselves can sometimes rise up in flashes and then echo back to silence. Thus, moments that feel “like” happiness may be all we can know of that condition, that state of being we yearn all our lives to achieve. In its arc of development, the book moves from the fragile innocence of childhood—which sometimes feels more nearly like confusion—to the very different and far more elusive “innocence” of the adult moving through the worlds of parenthood, obligation, married love and grief.  Here, those moments that feel “like” happiness often result from—and even give rise to—a deep and painful sense of loss. Sometimes, these poems seem to argue, adult happiness itself is at best the condition approaching what Robert Frost called “a momentary stay against confusion”—his definition, in fact, of poetry.

I wrote most of Like Happiness between 2005-2007, though I tinkered with it, adding new poems to the collection and pulling others out, until just a few weeks before the book went to press. Rick Campbell, the Senior Editor at Anhinga Press, had accepted the manuscript for publication as early as 2007, and had told me then that it would be years before it was actually published, so I had the novel and oddly-disconcerting experience of knowing that all the books I’d written had found their homes. This itself felt something like happiness, like being given the permission--so to speak--to move on into new territories in my work, to approach the work of writing poems through new formal and compositional rhythms, to attempt a new angle on my own sensibility. In the months after the book was accepted for publication, I allowed myself to write more quickly and playfully than I had done in years, and I wrote and revised my next book, The Animals Beyond Us, in what felt like one long breath.

Like Happiness confronts the joys and difficulties of family life, the dislocations and contentments of middle age, and the vivid beauty of the natural world at a time of huge environmental, psychological and spiritual stress. The poems here grew out of a time when my children were moving off to college, moving away from home; thus there is a certain sense of dislocation and wistful familial sadness in some of the pieces, even a kind of nostalgia. The book opens with a moment of childhood innocence, travels through various confusions and realizations leading to “experience” and then ends with an understanding of the self and larger world I’m not sure I have a name for. More than any other book I’ve written, Like Happiness represents the end of one period in my life and in my writing, and the beginning of another.

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About Michael Hettich:

Michael Hettich's books of poetry include FLOCK AND SHADOW: New and Selected Poems (New Rivers 2005), SWIMMER DREAMS (Turning Point 2004) and the just-released LIKE HAPPINESS (Anhinga press, 2010). His most recent chapbook, MANY LOVES (2007), won the Yellow Jacket Press Award for Florida Poets. A new book of poems, THE ANIMALS BEYOND US, is forthcoming (in 2011) from New Rivers Press. He teaches at Miami Dade College and lives with his family in Miami Shores, FLA. His website is michaelhettich.com

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