Colorado Springs-area poets provide tips on writing a love poem

By Jen Mulson Updated: February 11, 2014 at 3:10 pm • Published: February 10, 2014 | 3:40 pm 0

Capturing the longing of the heart in words can be a challenge for even the most experienced poet.

"It's difficult to write a successful love poem," said local poet Aaron Anstett, Pikes Peak poet laureate from 2008 to 2010. "It's a complicated, sometimes messy feeling, and so finding language that is sufficient or original is difficult. It is one of the great subjects."

Many famous writers have accepted the challenge. There are the sonnets of William Shakespeare and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, works by Robert Browning, Walt Whitman, John Keats and Emily Dickinson, and more contemporary works of devotion by e.e. cummings and Pablo Neruda.

Price Strobridge, the current Pikes Peak poet laureate, used the love poem "Colours" by Yevgeny Yevtushenko to court his wife, Miki, and then decided to write his own - "Prothalamion." It clearly worked. The couple has been married 44 years.

"A love poem is spoken from one hungry heart to another," Strobridge said. "If there is no heart, there is no art. The heart is what writes for us."

A love poem isn't simply tossed lightly onto a piece of paper, said Julie Shavin, vice president of the local group Poetry West.

"Poetry is an art form," she said. "It is a cappella music."

Anyone who has sat and stared at a blank page can testify to the precariousness of the situation. Too many rhyming words and you risk turning into "The Cat in the Hat." And overly sentimental fare can come across as greeting card-lite. The fear of sounding like a fool can birth the most stubborn case of writer's block.

What can a burgeoning writer, with a heart full of desire, do? (See what I did there?)

 

Advice

- Read poetry. "Steep in the tradition," Anstett said. He suggests Shakespeare's works, Neruda's book "Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair," poems by Rebecca Lindenberg and John Donne, or Frank O'Hara's "Having a Coke With You."

- Start considering your poem now, Shavin said. "If you have it in your mind, your subconscious will be at work on it," she said. "Even when you're sleeping, you'll be at work on it. A lot of poets I know wake up in the middle of the night with phrases, lines and whole stanzas."

- Start from somewhere else, such as a line from another poem, movie or song. "It might trigger a poem in directions other than I may have taken," Anstett said.

- Place pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Anstett doesn't believe in channeling the muse so much as channeling a work ethic - sit down and work hard. And decide if you're writing by hand or by keys.

"Moving a pen across paper - people have done it for very long time - might well force a writer to slow down a little bit," Anstett said. "It's a bit more physical effort than at a keyboard. But thoughts go quickly, and maybe typing them isn't bad either. It depends on the writer and the tone of the piece."

- Think about the reasons you love your partner, Anstett said. "Try to find metaphors and images to describe the love."

David Mason, Colorado's poet laureate and a professor at Colorado College, suggested writing about a shared object.

"Perhaps you could write about a tree that is important to you, or an animal, a book, a hammock or a path up the mountain you once took together."

- Avoid purple prose. "Meaning overly sentimental or flowery. It goes overboard," Shavin said. "It can almost come off as phony, especially if you string a whole lot of adjectives together, like three to four in a row. It's overwhelming. Less is always more."

- Don't feel like you have to use $5 words. "Some people think a great poem uses really profound language," Shavin said. "But sometimes the normal little word you always use is better." And cliches? "Avoid cliches like the plague," she said with a laugh.

- Try an acrostic poem. Write the person's name down the side of the page, and then start a sentence using each letter of her name.

- Write a list, Shavin said. Describe the smallest details of your beloved, such as his hands or her earlobes. "It doesn't have to become erotic. It could be their scent, their hair, their profile, the smallest things you might notice that others might not."

- Make a shape with your words, such as a heart, half a heart, a rose or a cupid and his bow.

 

Get writing

Don't overthink it, Strobridge said.

"Let the poem live and breathe," he said. "You cannot think a love poem."

And if that's not happening, consider finding a poem by a favorite poet, the lyrics of your favorite song or whatever prose floats your emotive boat. Copy it onto beautiful paper, attribute it and woo away.

Or write a letter.

"Letters are almost as rare as poems these days," Anstett said.

If all else fails, remember that even a poorly written love poem is still a love poem. You can't go wrong if it's from the heart.

-

Contact Jennifer Mulson at 636-0270, jen.mulson@gazette.com.

---

"Perhaps Not to Be is to Be Without Your Being" by Pablo Neruda

Perhaps not to be is to be without your being,

without your going, that cuts noon light

like a blue flower, without your passing

later through fog and stones,

without the torch you lift in your hand

that others may not see as golden,

that perhaps no one believed blossomed

the glowing origin of the rose,

without, in the end, your being, your coming

suddenly, inspiringly, to know my life,

blaze of the rose-tree, wheat of the breeze:

and it follows that I am, because you are:

it follows from 'you are', that I am, and we:

and, because of love, you will, I will,

We will, come to be.

---

"The Silken Tent" by Robert Frost

She is as in a field a silken tent

At midday when the sunny summer breeze

Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,

So that in guys it gently sways at ease,

And its supporting central cedar pole,

That is its pinnacle to heavenward

And signifies the sureness of the soul,

Seems to owe naught to any single cord,

But strictly held by none, is loosely bound

By countless silken ties of love and thought

To every thing on earth the compass round,

And only by one's going slightly taut

In the capriciousness of summer air

Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

---

"The Silken Tent" by Robert Frost

She is as in a field a silken tent

At midday when the sunny summer breeze

Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,

So that in guys it gently sways at ease,

And its supporting central cedar pole,

That is its pinnacle to heavenward

And signifies the sureness of the soul,

Seems to owe naught to any single cord,

But strictly held by none, is loosely bound

By countless silken ties of love and thought

To every thing on earth the compass round,

And only by one's going slightly taut

In the capriciousness of summer air

Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

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