How to Write a Love Poem

A not-so-serious tutorial on the art of seductive verse

| January-February 2012

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  • how-to-write-a-love-poem-sm.jpg

Poetry occupies a cultural space in contemporary American society somewhere between tap dancing and ventriloquism. People are certainly aware that poetry exists, but this awareness comes upon them only vaguely and in passing moments. When people think of a poet, perhaps they imagine the finger-snapping beret-wearing beatnik. Or the slammy mike-wielding poet-ranter. Both are proud poetic traditions, but most people who write poetry are just like you. Scruffy, broken wordpals. In this age of Twitter, casual word-shaping may be at its all-time high. And as we attempt to fit all the meaning and emotion we can into a few short lines, no doubt Maya Angelou and Walt Whitman and Bashō are looking down from heaven and smiling. (I know Maya Angelou isn’t dead. She just lives in heaven.)

Love poetry has, of course, been with us since the beginning of time. Lame pickup lines were passé even in the Mesozoic era; we diminish ourselves with cheap dating gimmickry. And who would want to woo anyone who could be gotten so cheaply anyway? It’s the chase that’s the fun—and the poem is the map you use! To get to someone’s soul! (Excited trumpets!) 

When is the right time in a relationship to present someone with a poem? The line between creepy and romantic is ever shifting. Some people might like a poem written about them at first, and then later come to find it creepy and taser you. Others might, upon first reading, feel creeped out and then later come to love the poem you wrote. You never know.

Love makes us put ourselves out there in crazy ways; it’s a roller-coaster with no safety restraints. It starts as a funny feeling in the stomach and then quickly goes on to flood the brain. Soon we’re constantly thinking about the objects of our affection, wondering what they look like without pants on, trying to remember their schedule at the yoga place. Poets actually know more about longing than they do about love. Poets fall in love with other people’s wives, people who don’t love them back. They’re human, in other words, and humans weren’t built for happiness. They were built for yearning.

So, what’s your story? For whom do you yearn? Could be your parole officer. Or the guy you hired to kill your ex. We generally are attracted to complication: people it might be impossible to pursue. As the great John Wieners wrote, “The poem does not lie to us. We lie under its law.” That’s the most important thing a poem can do: communicate capital T Truth to the reader. In this case to someone you think is pretty special. So make your Truth sound pretty good.