How to Write A Love Poem

How to Write A Love Poem
I once responded to a girlfriend’s love poem by critiquing its imagery. That relationship didn’t last long. After all, who was I to ignore Oscar Wilde’s bromide, “All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling”? Isn’t it heartless to greet florid devotion with a red pen, to rebuff earnest swoons with a call for better metaphors? But as always, this Valentine’s Day will prompt reams of gushy, heartfelt doggerel, reminding us that the greeting card industry relies on mass consumption of singsong rhymes to accompany the roses and chocolate-covered cherries. At other times of the year, we don’t see a rush for Easter villanelles or Arbor Day sonnets. But the love poem? That is universal. And as with anything universal, it’s damn hard to do without coming off as lovesick teenagers fumbling with scansion and sentiment.
To talk about this particular challenge, we invited four poets to discuss the art of the love poem, all of them poets who 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.
What’s the most pressing challenge in approaching a love poem?

The trouble is not really the poetry but the feelings. We are raised on such cockamamie folklore that it’s all rather depressing when experience teaches us that the prince is not going to come riding in on his white horse. Oh, I’m not saying he doesn’t show up sometimes. But he’s not a prince, for one thing. And there’s no horse. And she’s not Cinderella either. Because, though he is fond of her cleavage and various things she might sometimes do or say, she’s got the worst taste in music he’s ever encountered. 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 (says James Wright). The problem for the poet is how to get such a hodgepodge into one coherent space.
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