Chapter by Chapter: 'I Would Leave Me If I Could'
For reference, Halsey uses the pronouns she/they interchangeably. Trigger warning: sexual abuse.
“I Would Leave Me If I Could: A Collection of Poetry,” written by Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and New York Times bestselling poet Ashley Frangipane, best known by their stage name Halsey, was released Nov. 10, 2020. After years of Halsey teasing her poetry on social media, fans were finally able to own a physical copy of their work with one of Halsey’s own paintings on the cover. Throughout the collection, there are hints, lyrics and lines that directly pertain to Halsey’s music from albums like “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom” and “Manic.”
In their poetry book, Halsey writes about their struggles with love, heartbreak, loss, sexuality and their battle with bipolar disorder. Something so compelling about Halsey’s works is the abundance of vulnerability and reality of her life and the lives of many like her.
“I don’t always want to talk about how strong I am — sometimes I wanna talk about how weak I am because of it, too. It’s not about what I’ve overcome, it’s about what I’m still trying to overcome, and I think that’s really important,” Halsey said on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Halsey’s poetry especially shows they’ve grown and overcome a lot through their struggles with mental health, but also that bipolar disorder is an ongoing battle she will have to fight for the rest of her life.
“I Would Leave Me If I Could” showcases the dichotomy of Halsey’s life as a public figure and private individual, as someone with newfound wealth who grew up displaced and impoverished, as someone who is fully in control of their sexuality but has also experienced sexual abuse and more. The very existence of Halsey is a thin line between two extremes — a perfect analogy to the bipolar disorder they endure on a daily basis.
Seeing the origin of lines and inspiration from Halsey’s songs in some of the poems she wrote is so intriguing and almost nostalgic in a way. For example, the poem “You Were First" contains lyrics from the song “Alanis’ Interlude” on her album “Manic:” “Soft skin, soft eyes / All these / Beautiful laughs and beautiful thighs” is directly in “Alanis’ Interlude,” however the poem itself contains a different theme and explores the women referenced differently.
“You Were First” is perhaps my favorite poem from the entire collection, heavily dealing with the coexistence and contrast of Halsey’s love and struggle with both genders. This line in particular sticks out to me from the poem: “I guess I found it easier / For me to charm a man / ‘Cause a woman always crumbled in my hands.” The way they can use each word so powerfully is breathtaking and alluring. Every single word has purposeful and careful meaning. There are no fillers here — only intention and heartache.
Other more bittersweet poems, like “Forever Cursed In Love Are The Observant” and “Parasite,” detail the profuse raw emotions felt by unrequited love after a breakup and how the longing for someone can swallow you whole. The way Halsey can convey such a strong, heart-wrenching feeling so quickly showcases their ability to construct poetry skillfully: “My mouth tastes like all the things / I should have said. / I don’t want to be this way, / but I have been since you left. / I should have never counted your eyelashes / when you slept.”
Poetry in general is so potent because it aims to conquer an emotion or arc in such a condensed and therefore heightened way. Much like the saying about how a baby snake’s venom is stronger than an adult's, a poem can make you feel more in a shorter amount of time than a song or an actual story. Halsey has mastered this way of poetry in the way that they spill their heart across the pages so chaotically yet lovingly.
Halsey is one of my favorite artists because of the nature of the art they produce. While most of their studio albums have been based on fictional characters and storylines that are sometimes connected to her real life, their poetry and third album “Manic” are very authentic and therefore more impactful to me. She bares her soul in her lyrics and lines from these two collections of work, and she does so brilliantly. There is something so beautifully tragic about how well they can make art out of their trauma and legacy.
I would recommend “I Would Leave Me If I Could: A Collection of Poetry” to anyone who is fascinated by Halsey’s writing or interested in poetry about what it means to live and have learned.