Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

I'm finally back! The surgery is over. I'm percocet free, and I can finally get back into life! I was planning to write something completely different today, but then I got half-way through the post and realized it was Valentine's Day. (This is what 16 years of marriage & four kids does to you!)

So, in honor of the day I want to talk about Love, that is how to write about love specifically in poetry. It's not as easy as it seems. In fact, I know one poet who has a list of words he never uses in his poems and "Love" is one of them. Why? I believe it's because "love" and other words like it are abstract. What do I mean by that? Let me explain.

We think in images. Say the word, "Love" and one person will picture a red heart. Someone else will see the face of their children. Someone else will see their lover's face. Yet another person will see Cupid. It's different for everyone.

If you're writing a love poem, it's not enough to use the word love to elicit the specific feeling you want in your reader. You must go deeper. What specific type of love? Young love? Mature love? Parental love?

There's a difference in writing, "I love him! He makes me happy!" (Exclamation points are a must when writing Bad Poetry.) And writing:

I trace our history in the lines that curve
around your mouth and sweep down from your eyes
like the wisteria that falls from the arbor in our yard
where last night you pressed your lips
against my forehead (we are written there also)...

You get the picture. (This isn't even close to a perfect example. It's a quick start of a poem I just wrote for this post.) What I would probably do if I was to finish this poem, is write about growing a life together with my husband. The entire poem would be a love poem, but I probably would never use the word "love."

I would want to create in the reader a quiet feeling of a long, secure love. Something that twines two people together so that everything about them is tangled like the roots of two trees that grow next to each other.

Do you get the picture? Saying, "I love him!! He makes me happy!!" (even with several exclamation points) doesn't really make your reader feel anything. Yes, it might take more words. It might take a lot of thought, but you can do it, and the results are worth it.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite love poems by Billy Collins. Notice that he uses "Love" as the title, but not once does he use the word "love" in the poem.


The boy at the far end of the train car
kept looking behind him
as if he were afraid or expecting someone

and then she appeared in the glass door
of the forward car and he rose
and opened the door and let her in

and she entered the car carrying
a large black case in the
unmistakable shape of a cello.

She looked like an angel with a high forehead
and somber eyes and her hair
was tied up behind her neck with a black bow.

And because of all that,
he seemed a little awkward
in his happiness to see her,

whereas she was simply there,
perfectly existing as a creature
with a soft face who played the cello.

And the reason I am writing this
on the back of a manila envelope
now that they have left the train together

is to tell you that when she turned
to lift the large, delicate cello
onto the overhead rack,

I saw him looking up at her
and what she was doing
the way the eyes of saints are painted

when they are looking up at God
when he is doing something remarkable,
something that identifies him as God.

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