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Romancing the Poem: How to Write a Love Poem by Richard Scarsbrook

Romancing the Poem: How to Write a Love Poem by Richard Scarsbrook

With love in the air, poet Richard Scarsbrook shares with us what makes a good love poem.


 

It is February, and soon we will celebrate Valentine’s Day. And not a moment too soon! February is a cold, grey, dismal month; February needs this annual injection of romance and passion!

The romantics are already shouting, “Yes! Yes! Oh, gawd, yes!” but the cynics are kicking off their slushy boots and grumbling, “Valentine’s Day. Another Consumer Holiday. Hmmmph.” Well, here is a suggestion for the romantics and the cynics alike: Instead of buying your love a generic “love rhymes with dove” drugstore greeting card, why not write a poem instead? Bring some warmth and light inside the space that the two of you share.

What is it that makes us feel “romantic”? In every loving relationship, there are places, gestures, symbols, and situations that amplify your feelings of love, longing, sensuality. In a compelling love poem, the poet of course brings his or her own experiences to the poem, but there is also space between the lines for the reader (ideally, the poet’s lover) to bring along their own experiences as well.

For example, I can tell you about the exact moment when the poems that make up the lifeblood of my collection Six Weeks were “conceived.” As a gift, my love gave me Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda. As I read some of the poems back to her one night, certain poems called out to me, demanding to be reread. After my tongue had caressed Neruda’s delicious words several times, I had a strong desire for the next poems I wrote to be like these ones: romantic, sensual, and personal, full of feeling and longing and passion.

(Attention poetry critics! Please don’t read this the wrong way! I am not suggesting that I am a poet anything like Neruda was! His poems were an inspiration, something to which I still aspire.)

All love affairs have their own memorable places, gestures, symbols, and situations; I wanted to write about ours, and you should want to write about yours. Wanting to express those ideas and feeling is the first step; this is where the magic is born. Then, it’s just about crafting the want into something real.

It seems to me that true romance has this cinematic quality, like watching a black-and-white movie, in which the characters glow with attraction and sexual chemistry, and they give you glimpses of it, but they never reveal it fully. This is an important aspect of a passionate love poem: hint, imply, give glimpses into, but never throw open the bedroom door (so to speak).

So now you’ve got the idea and the feeling. How do you craft it into a poem? As an example, I’ll share one of the poems from Six Weeks, and I’ll try to explain what I did to make it work.

 

Fortune

these striations
on your index finger
say that you will canoe
past the coal-black banks
of the swollen River Nile
 
resurrecting Cleopatra
you will steal from her crypt
a precious golden falcon
says this deep line
in the centre of your palm
 
this tributary
speaks of oil-smoke fingers
from your shattered Sopwith Camel
they reach up to the space
where you fell from the sky
 
this wrinkle on your thumb
knows she wrapped you in a blanket
fed you chestnuts from the fire
she nursed you and loved you
like an infant, like a lover
 
in another life
you will see her
passing underneath
a bridge like an arching backbone
and the falcon will fly
from your hands into her nest
 
the fortune teller whispers
all of this means something else
 
take her into
the palms of your hands
 
decode the riddle
and prove your love

 

I’ll let you decode the meaning of the poem for yourself, because the mystery is the part of the fun in reading a poem, and also in falling in love, right? I will, however, try to explain how the construction of the poem contributes to its feel.

The opening stanzas in “Fortune” are five lines each, which creates an initial framework for the eyes and ears of the reader to follow. But then I play with this structure to create the buildup: each stanza stretches outward in the middle, like waves rolling in, with the crest of each wave rising a bit higher each time: the buildup.

Then, there is a climax in the fifth stanza, into which I’ve added a sixth line, to allow the stanza to really stretch out, to maximize the rhythmic tension.

Then, when the tallest wave is about to crash down, I switch to couplets, which, visually and sonically, create the release.

And then, the couplets recede; each one is a little shorter, creating the poem’s dénouement.

Or, simply put, I wrote a poem about falling into the kind of love that feels like destiny, so I also wanted it to feel that way.

So there you go. Now go write your own poem for your own lover. Give it meaning. Give it rhythm. Let it build up to a climax, and then release, and then you can lie together in the soft glow of the dénouement. You know what I’m talking about.

And here’s the best part: your poem doesn’t have to be like Neruda’s, or like mine, or like any other poem. Like the act of love itself, romantic poems are most fun if they are different experiences every time.

Happy Valentine’s Day, lovers.

Six WeeksClick here to learn more about Richard's romantic collection, Six weeks.


 

The author of seven books, Richard Scarsbrook's award-winning writing has been published widely including literary magazines, anthologies, and journals. Scarsbrook lives in Toronto, where he teaches at George Brown College and the Humber School for Writers.

Last modified onWednesday, 12 February 2014 13:40
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