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Welcome to the second installment of In Verse. Happy you’re here.
Sometimes we get our hearts broken, and sometimes we fall in love. Being in love is to be full of swell, all bells, and tinkles. At its best, it is enough to make you believe in the good of the world again. Poems are so good for when we fall in love, and when we are trying to impress our new lovers.
I scoured my dense poetry collection and have found five beautiful collections for those of you that are trying to impress a new beau, or trying to keep your everyday love interested.
Like a Beggar by Ellen Bass
Didn’t we shoulder
our way through the cleft in the rock of the everyday
and tear up the grass in the pasture of pleasure?
Bass is a powerhouse of a poet, I love the way she puts words to lesbian love, the thing that has been the muse for many of us. The quote above is taken from the poem “The Morning After” in which the speaker is marveling at her lover as she goes about her day the morning after they’ve been intimate with each other.
The details of the poem, the silk kimono, the lunch being packed, all these things plant you gently into the atmosphere of the poem expertly. What’s satisfying about the speaker in these poems is that she is still madly in love with the love she’s been with for years. The dedication, the appreciation, and the passion are still ever-present. Poems like “Prayer” and “Let’s” paint the picture for the reader that love can still flourish years into a relationship.
I’ve had the pleasure of taking classes with Bass, and she is rigid in her respect for the genre. One of the things I learned from her teachings is that you as the writer are not in charge of the poem. The poem moves through you, you have to set aside your ego and let it come as it sees fit. I think the same can be said for love. You aren’t in charge of the way love comes to you. Yes, you choose love as an action every day, but who your heart clings to and how fast and how long is not in your control.
I imagine you reading this collection to your lover. You both pass the book to the other after reading one poem until the entire book is read. Then you kiss. Then you let whatever comes come.
Remnants of Another Age by Nikola Madzirov
Closeness will escape our hands like a drop
from the body of a fish just caught
This book is not an obvious choice. Mostly because it is chiefly about the effects of empire and war. The poet, Madzirov, is Macedonian and writes in his native language, which you can see printed on the left side of the book.
I think works of translation are important to read. I will try to describe here why I’ve chosen this book to read to someone you love. I believe it is because there is so much tenderness in the book, even in the face of violence, the speaker still talks of falling snow, the vastness of the universe, the small, slippery fish.
In the poem which this quote comes from, “An Involuntary Conquest of Space,” the speaker notes:
When the sun and moon eclipse with a touch
they are still apart, and everything
becomes night, a false falling asleep of the leaves
the shadows, the wild animals.
This poem is a lot about a love that is fading, but there is still so much in the image of the touch. That not-touching touching, that mirage of touch. And there is peace in that. In the false night that it creates.
I imagine you reading this poem to the one you love and talking about the bigger themes in the book, discussing the metaphor, really pushing yourselves to understand the images and allowing that to draw you closer. After all, there’s nothing sexier than someone who may not be a poet but who can engage with poetry in a critical way.
These are poems you want to take care with because they do deal with war. I don’t want to sound like I’m diminishing the work in any way. I believe that even poems that aren’t love poems have a love in them and can be shared with the ones we love.
The Undressing by Li-Young Lee
I loved you before I was born
it doesn’t make sense, I know
In this book is one of Lee’s most celebrated poems, “I Loved You Before I Was Born.” This poem is one of the most beautiful poems I’ve ever read, so touching and surreal. It really captures the grandness of love as the rest of the book grapples with fleeting and selfish love.
The Undressing contains masterful love poems. The speaker in these poems is writing to a lover, writing to a father, writing to so many loves. In “Changing Places In The Fire,” the speaker states:
The body of the beloved
is the lover’s true homeland, she says
and whether or not this is true, whether or not it is believed, there is beauty in it. There is recognition of the power of love and the beloved. How we often run and escape into the bodies of the ones we love, for comfort and for protection.
Like many collections of poetry, The Undressing gives voice to many different topics, but its the complexity of love that rises out and sustains the reader.
Bestiary by Donika Kelly
I am tired of mounting
this hill alone
Sprinkled throughout Bestiary are these love poems that are gut-punching, as I like to refer to them. The quote comes from “Love Poem: Donika” and does see the speaker calling on a lover in the end (Love, how do I gain/ what was lost in winter?)
The first Love Poem that appears is “Love Poem: Chimera” in which the speaker imagines themselves as a beast, the lover as a beast. There is a making in the way we love that can often be destructive or uncontrollable, it can take on a life of its own.
Most of the poets on this list have struck the balance between pain and love. Writing about the things that haunt them alongside the love that keeps them alive. I think Kelly is one of the strongest voices for this in modern poets. It’s just so easy to get lost in the world of her poems. The poems in Bestiary also deal with the trauma of abuse and how that affects the way we love, how we can be cruel to who we love when we haven’t shaken out the sheets where our trauma is laid.
My favorite Love Poem in the book is “Love Poem: Minotaur’ because it addresses the love we have for ourselves, or the love we try to have for ourselves when we’ve been hurt. It’s a poem that makes me cry. So much of the writing in this book is in commune with nature, the good and the ugly. In “Minotaur” there is a gentleness to the nature, to the salt of the sea that seems to nurture the speaker. It’s really profound.
I hope you get this book and read it with your love and take so so so much time with these poems.
Post Colonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz
At night your legs, love, are boulevards
leading me beggard and hungry to your candy house
I did a full review of this book already, so you can get deep into my thoughts there. But I want to mention it again because it is so profoundly loving and lovely.
The above quote comes from “Ode to Beloved’s Hips,” probably the gayest poem ever written. It’s dark, it’s sweet, it’s sexy. I love every beat of it. There are so many poems to the beloved in this book that make you want to fall in love, to touch someone, to be touched.
Diaz is one of my favorite poets and one of my favorite people to learn from as I read her work or attend readings she performs at our listen to interviews she is a part of. I highly recommend her VS interview with Franny Choi and Danez Smith. It made me aroused in the middle of the day and also made me write a poem at work. That’s power.
In “Waist and Sway,” the speaker muses:
Wanting her was so close to prayer—
I should not. But it was July,
and in a city where desire means, Upstairs
we can break each other open,
the single blessing I had to give was Mouth
so gave and gave I did.
I’m a little flushed just from typing that! These poems are so rich, they are truly a mouthful. They’ll make you tingle. Which is why you should read them to someone you love, so you can both feel that spark together, and then feast on each other in whatever way it makes sense to you.