Columns > Published on February 13th, 2014

Poetry Fun-0-1: Love Poems

A great poet once said, "All poems are love poems." Okay, it was a decent poet. Fine, it was me, all right? You caught me, congratulations. Maybe not every single poem in the world is a love poem, but regardless of the veracity of my claim, there are certainly more than enough to go around, a revolting amount of written endearment floating on that literary sea like emotional driftwood. How did the world end up with so many love poems anyway?

How The World Ended Up With So Many Love Poems

Poets are drama queens, always making something out of nothing. No other group of people makes such a big deal out of the banality of everyday life. And if you give them a subject like love? Forget it: they go completely apeshit. To get old school SAT prep on you, Poets : Love :: Pyros : Fire. To say that they are obsessed is putting it mildly. That's one of the big reasons why Valentine's Day is such a poetic time of year: there's so much great material. For centuries, poets have prided themselves on finding new and slightly deranged ways of saying, "I love you," because why use three simple words when a complex and painstakingly crafted collection of obscure references and metaphors works just as well?

Thus, there are a million different types of love poem. There's the common "You are clearly the greatest thing that ever happened to the world and I'm going to give you a few reasons why" love poem, the riskier "Let's be real here: you're kinda dumpy, but I'm into you anyway" love poem, the bizarre "I hope you won't be too offended if I compare you to poison" love poem, the kinda creepy "I love you THIS much" love poem, and the depressing "I never found true love because I was too busy looking for someone who may not actually exist" love poem. There's also the slightly morbid "Listen, Death, you think you can come between me and my beloved? Well THINK AGAIN!" love poem, the pushy "Come on, folks, I haven't got all day" love poem, the "I'm such a fantastic poet that you're going to live forever through my words" love poem (a personal favorite), and the gutsy "Your boobs are just so great" love poem (I'm looking at you, Robert Herrick):

Display thy breasts, my Julia, there let me
Behold that circummortal purity;
Between whose glories, there my lips I’ll lay,
Ravished in that fair Via Lactea.

That one takes some balls. One of the most frequently used, though, is the "I'm going to love you for a ridiculously long time and that's okay because this is a poem and stuff like that works in poetry" love poem, which is fitting, because love poems themselves will probably be written "Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear," and there's not much we can do but embrace it. In fact, some of the best poets of today are keeping the love poem tradition alive with their contemporary takes. David Levithan's novel in verse, The Lover's Dictionary, is basically 200+ pages of love poems. It chronicles all the ups and downs of a relationship, though, not just the happy sunshine parts that Shakespeare loved.

For now, let's focus on the happy sunshine love poems. They aren't particularly hard to write; anyone can do it. As a matter of fact...

How To Write A Love Poem In 5 Easy Steps

There's a bit of math involved, but anyone who has seen at least one episode of Sesame Street should be able to count to 5, and that's all I ask of you here.

Step 1: Love Someone

A fairly important prerequisite for writing a love poem is loving someone. Or something. Whatever. Poetry doesn't judge. Pick whatever it is you want to celebrate. (I wouldn't recommend hats or abstract concepts, but really it's anything you want.) We'll call the object of your affection x.

Step 2: Think of Something Great

Next, think of something fantastic that's out there in the world. Sunsets are awesome. Pretty much everything about the sun is pretty wonderful, actually. Nature has a lot to offer here; just pick something that's generally considered to be great. We can label this great thing y.

Step 3: The Formula

As complicated as they may seem, most love poems are based on a variation of the formula x > y. Maybe you love a girl named Juanita, and you think that whales are just the best thing ever. Well, there's your opening line: Juanita, you are better than a whale. Okay, maybe that's not the best example. How about you're crazy for a dude named Archibald, and in your neighborhood it's generally accepted that there's nothing better than a fresh bagel: Archie's all the breakfast that I need. Wow, this is a lot harder than I thought. You know what? Let's try an inanimate object, like a bicycle, which is totally something you might love, and say that it's better than, I don't know, a pair of jeans: Oh bicycle, more lovely than my jeans.... See? It works perfectly. Just take your x > y formula, add in a few supporting images and compliments, and you're golden.

Step 4: If All Else Fails

Of course, if you're still having trouble, ditch y completely and focus solely on x. There are two ways you can go here: start with "I love x because..." and write out a list of annoyingly adorable qualities (make some up if you have to; it's called "poetic license"), or talk about some creepily endearing thing you do sometimes to show how in love you are. Craig Arnold talks up his love's avian empathy in "Bird-Understander"—no, seriously—a fantastic example of the former, while Kim Addonizio's "First Poem for You" is a perfect example of the latter:

I like to touch your tattoos in complete
darkness, when I can’t see them. I’m sure of
where they are, know by heart the neat
lines of lightning pulsing just above
your nipple, can find, as if by instinct, the blue
swirls of water on your shoulder where a serpent
twists, facing a dragon. When I pull you

to me, taking you until we’re spent
and quiet on the sheets, I love to kiss
the pictures in your skin. They’ll last until
you’re seared to ashes; whatever persists
or turns to pain between us, they will still
be there. Such permanence is terrifying.
So I touch them in the dark; but touch them, trying.

Disturbing, but heartfelt.

Step 5: Deliver Your Love Poem

Once you've written your love poem, it's time to deliver it to the object of your affection! Or crumple it into a ball, throw it in the trash, and despair forevermore. You're a poet now, after all, and "professional despairer" is right there on your résumé. Either way, congratulations on finishing such a beautifully emotional love poem. You're a natural. Good luck with your wooing!

About the author

Brian McGackin is the author of BROETRY (Quirk Books, 2011). He has a BA from Emerson College in Something Completely Unrelated To His Life Right Now, and a Masters in Poetry from USC. He enjoys Guinness, comic books, and Bruce Willis movies.

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