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Roses are red, violets are blue: Love poem tips for you

February 13, 2009 | 11:05 am


Love poetry is as much of an old Valentine's Day standby as chocolates and red roses; delivering a classic to your beloved is a pretty safe bet. The Poetry Foundation has prepared a long list of love poetry's greatest hits. If your mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun or your love is like a red red rose, you'll find a poem there that hits the spot.

But poetry is a living art, and poetry didn't stop a century ago. Is there anything new or fresh to say about love? In an effort to counter "reams of gushy, heartfelt doggerel," Jeremy Richards talked to several young poets for the Poetry Foundation. These poets, he says, "reinvent the subject not as lace and violets but as a shattered display window, 'an ache and a kink,' 'the black pulse of dominoes,' or 'a bird/trapped in the terminal' — anything but what we’ve come to expect." An excerpt:

Craig Arnold: Let’s face it, nobody in love is original. We all feel and do pretty much the same things, make fools of ourselves in the same ways, and hopefully come through it alive and well and happily in bed with someone else. But that’s also precisely the appeal of love poetry, the intensely humbling nature of the experience it tries to describe.

Cyrus Cassels: The most pressing concern is conveying intimacy without shutting the reader out of the ecstatic feelings limned in a love poem.

Rebecca Hoogs: If there’s no tension in the love, there’s no tension in the poem. “I love you, you’re perfect,” no matter how prettily said, is boring.

Adrian Blevins: The problem with love poetry is that it must be felt and written by humans, who never feel one feeling at a time. I mean, love has fear in it. And guilt and misery and a special kind of hallucinating loneliness.... The problem for the poet is how to get such a hodgepodge into one coherent space.

A few complicated love poems made the classic list, but when I went looking for E.E. Cummings and "The Flea" by John Donne I discovered they hadn't made the cut. But they are lurking there, deeper in the archives: the Poetry Foundation has 1,233 poems about love and desire on its website.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Christina Rutz via Flickr