Thoughts on Love Poems

Want to read some good love poems? Try the love category at The Academy of American Poets and or The Poetry Foundaton’s Facebook Love feature—favorite poems from the Foundation’s archives picked by Facebook fans. Both sources offer the best love poems of long ago and today.

Considering how fine the modern poems are (by modern, I personally mean everything from yesterday to the 1940s or so), why do people think love poems must be written in the style of Shakespeare, John Donne or Lord Byron? A kind of fake, antiquated formality seems to overcome the poet setting down words of love. I see it over and over again in the poetry contest I’m currently judging.

Another style is the overwrought statement of love in predictable rhymes and bad meter. Such poems wind up sounding like poorly created greeting cards. If you’re writing a love poem to someone dear, go ahead and write it as a good greeting card. Write it for the recipient, without concern for what a third party will think. Keep it personal; as such, do not enter it in a contest. I never understand why a poet would submit a sincere, one-on-one love poem to a judge’s scrutiny, regardless of the quality or lack of it. This is something too many writers, especially poets, don’t seem to understand: Writing for publication or contests doesn’t qualify the work. Writing strictly for the eyes of one person you care about counts just as much as a poem published to a wide readership.

“Love poems” is a broad category that can be broken down further into subcategories: poems to a beloved, poems about love, portraits of lovers, poems about lost love, poems about unrequited love, and so on. Naturally, there are some excellent poems written to a beloved; To Dorothy by Marvin Bell is an excellent contemporary example. Heartfelt, moving, lacking in romantic hyperbole or melodrama, this poems shows how it can and should be done. Excessive gushing and mushiness don’t make words of love more sincere; sometimes they get in the way of the message.

Here’s a nudge for Valentine’s Day: Write about love in a fresh way. This means chucking all the cliches and standard romantic literary embroidery for original images and language. Don’t worry about showing this poem to anyone, including the person it’s written to or about. Write about a past love, if you wish. Don’t lament, don’t fall on the fainting couch with your hand to your forehead, a damp hankie clenched in your other fist. Look through the love poems at the links above for inspiration. Some I especially like: San Antonio by Naomi Shihab Nye, When a Woman Loves a Man by David Lehman, and I Knew a Woman by Theodore Roethke.  For a really innovative poem about love, read E. E. Cummmings’ [love is more thicker than forget].”

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