Being in love: one of the most important parts of growing up. And when they are young and in love is probably the first time when people and poetry are likely to meet. Poetry seems to be the natural way of expressing what we feel when we are in love.
When that blue-black cloud
came over the sand lot with drops
of rain big as marbles, we ran
down the dark alley into Big John's
orchard where we leaned, then
clutched the other's shivering body
and I had my first kiss.
But what I remember most is the running,
how our wet clothes hung to our skin
and the clouds actually billowed up
as lightning struck the hill.
And the smell of cut grass getting wet,
the sense of chill coming,
the wanting to go home and the wanting never to leave,
just the two of us, who didn't love,
barely liked each other,
breathing, holding hands
the way we'd hold an apple slick with rain,
or a slingshot stone, lightly,
ever so lightly.
It is very difficult to write about something like a first kiss. Such things are usually trivialized or they are sentimentalized. So it is hard to take them seriously, or, even if we can, it is hard to get other people to take them seriously. But a first kiss can be comical, and, then, it should be treated as comedy--remembering that things that are really funny are not trivial. It will help if you keep your poem under control--keep it objective--stick to the facts.
Love as a torment has long been a subject of poetry.
CUPID° AND VENUS
Mark Alexander Boyd
Fra bank to bank, fra wood to wood I rin,°
Ourhailit° with my feeble fantasie
Like til° a leaf that fallis from a tree
Or til a reed ourblawin with the win.°
Twa gods guides me: the ane of them is blin,°
Yea, and a bairn° brocht up in vanitie,°
The next a wife° engenrit° of the sea,
And lichter nor° a dauphin° with her fin.
Unhappy is the man for evermair
That tills the sand and sawis° in the air;
But twice unhappier is he, I lairn,
That feidis° in his hairt a mad desire
And follows on a woman thro the fire,
Led by a blind and techit by a bairn.
°cupid: Cupid, the son of Venus, was sometimes depicted wearing a blindfold.
°rin: run; °Ourhailit: overcome; °til: to; °win: wind; °blin: blind; °bairn: child
°vanitie: spoiled; °wife: woman; °engenrit: born; °nor: than; °dauphin: dolphin
°sawis: sows seed; °feidis: feeds
It seems to help to blame the torment of love on outside forces. Today it is hard to blame Cupid and Venus, but try writing a poem blaming your hard luck in love on some outside, irresistible force.
MEETING AT NIGHT
The grey sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i' the slushy sand.
Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, thro' its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!
Except for the strong hint in the last line, Browning says nothing about the excitement and anticipation that are felt. He makes us feel the excitement by telling us things that are seen and heard and smelled and felt. Write a poem about being in a state of excitement and anticipation. Don't use the words excitement or anticipation or any other words like them. Tell what is seen and heard and smelled and felt, but tell them in such a way that your reader will feel the excitement and anticipation.
GREEN GROW THE RASHES
Green grow the rashes,° O;
Green grow the rashes, O;
The sweetest hours that e'er I spend,
Are spent amang the lasses, O!
There's nought but care on ev'ry han',
In ev'ry hour that passes, O:
What signifies the life o' man,
An'° 'twere na for the lasses, O.
The warly° race may riches chase,
An' riches still may fly them, O;
An' though at last they catch them fast,
Their hearts can ne'er enjoy them, O.
But gie me a canny° hour at e'en,
My arms about my dearie, O;
And' warly cares, an' warly men,
May a' gae tapsalteerie,° O!
The wisest man° the warl' saw,
He dearly loved the lasses, O.
Auld nature swears, the lovely dears
Her noblest work she classes, O:
Her prentice han' she tried on man,
An' then she made the lasses, O.
rashes: tall grasses or rushes;
An': if; warly: worldly; canny: pleasant;
tapsalteerie: topsy turvy;
wisest man: King Solomon who had many wives
A RED, RED ROSE
O my luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June;
O my luve's like the melodie
That's sweetly played in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.
Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun:
O I will luve thee still, my dear.
While the sands o' life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only luve,
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.
Wild nights--Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
To a Heart in port--
Done with the Compass--
Done with the Chart!
Rowing in Eden--
Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor--Tonight--
THE COURTSHIP OF SUN AND MOON
(based on a Yaqui story)
Every morning the Sun knelt
in the courtyard of the Moon.
She would never let him see
quite all of her; cloud curtains
dropped at any sign of his advancement.
How he burned for her!
He compared her to seafoam, pearls,
hammered silver thin as rain.
He ached to marry her.
One day she agreed. "But you must bring me
a suitable gift which must fit
The next day he brought her a bracelet
made of red coral and dove feathers.
But it was too small! He gave her a cloak
to wear after her bath: it was too big.
He could never keep her constant.
They have never married. Moon saddened,
for he never spoke of the one gift
without measure and yet the measure of all things:
[THE PENNYCANDYSTORE BEYOND THE EL]
The pennycandystore beyond the El
is where I first
fell in love
Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom
of that september afternoon
A cat upon the counter moved among
the licorice sticks
and tootsie rolls
and Oh Boy Gum
Outside the leaves were falling as they died
A wind had blown away the sun
A girl ran in
Her hair was rainy
Her breasts were breathless in the little room
Outside the leaves were falling
and they cried
Too soon! too soon!
Write about, when you were a child, being hopelessly in love with an unattainable older person.
Or, write a poem about your first experience with the awakening of sexuality, the first time someone made you catch your breath and made your heart beat faster.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti doesn't put the short lines up against the left margin; he decides where, in the available space, they will be most effective. Experiment with placing your short lines.
from URBAN LOVE SONGS
after Tzu Yeh
Wing Tek Lum
Our friends are laughing.
They say we sit so close in your old Buick
it has become second nature for me
to exit on the same side as you.
* * * * * *
I wave as you enter; you take your seat smiling.
This same coffee shop now feels crowded.
We whisper to each other:
all eyes have noticed something's changed.
Write an urban love song in four lines. Pick something you do together; then describe something that makes this ordinary thing (getting out of a car, drinking coffee or a soda) different because of the way you feel about each other.
CAN'T GET OVER HER
My nephew is distressed that he's still
in love with the girl who went back to her boyfriend—
the one who's not good enough for her.
When he ran into her again, she had that same bright laugh,
like the shine on an apple, and the wind rose
reaching up into the limbs and fluttering
the leaves in the whole apple tree.
But when she left, it hit him all over.
She was headed for her boyfriend's house, she'd walk
quickly in the brittle March night.
He'd have a fire going. She'd unlace her boots
and offer him her mouth, her lips still cold,
velvet tongue warm in that satin cape.
He didn't tell me all this,
of course, but who hasn't longed
for that girl? that boy? He's mad
at himself that he can't get over her.
He's young and he's got goals, quit
smoking, gave up weekend drunks. Now he tackles
model airplane kits, one small piece at a time.
He wants to learn mastery. Sweet man.
Should we tell him the truth?
That he'll never get over her. Love
is a rock in the surf off the Pacific. Life
batters it. No matter how small it gets
it will always be there—grain of sand
chafing the heart. I still love
the boy who jockeyed cars, expertly
in the lots on New York Avenue,
parking them so close, he had to lift his lithe body
out the window those sultry August afternoons.
He smelled of something musky and rich—distinctive
as redwoods in heat.
I still long for him
like a patriot exiled from the motherland,
a newborn switched in the hospital, raised
in the wrong family. Each year that passes
is one more I miss out on. His children
are not mine. Even their new
step-mother is not me. When she complains
how hard she tries, how little they appreciate it,
I think how much better off he'd be with me.
And when he has grandchildren
they won't be mine either. And when he's dying—
even if I go to him—I'll be little more
than a dumb bouquet, spilling my scent.
We don't get over any of it. The heart
is stubborn and indefatigable. And limitless.
That's how I can turn to my beloved, now,
with the awe the early rabbis must have felt
opening the Torah. And when she pulls me to her,
still, after all these years, I feel like I did
the first time I stood in front of Starry Night.*
I had never known, never imagined
its life beyond the flat, smooth surface
of the textbook. Had never conceived
there could be these thick swirls of paint,
the rough-edged cobalt sky, the deep
spiraling valleys of starlight.
*This painting by the nineteenth century Dutch expressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh is frequently reproduced in art books.
We say easily, "Hey, Get over it" to ourselves or to someone else. Write a poem about not getting over it. What should and will be kept.
WHEN AS THE RYE REACH TO THE CHIN
When as the rye reach to the chin,
And chopcherry, chopcherry ripe within,
Strawberries swimming in the cream,
And schoolboys playing in the stream;
Then O, then O, then O my truelove said,
Till that time come again
She could not live a maid.
OH MISTRESS MINE
Oh mistress mine! where are you roaming?
Oh! stay and hear; your true love's coming,
That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man's son doth know.
What is love? 'tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What's to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth's a stuff will not endure.
WHEN IN DISGRACE WITH FORTUNE AND MEN'S EYES
When in disgrace with Fortune and man's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love rememb'red such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.