It’s February 14th. Today you will see shades of red everywhere. Everything will be heart-shaped. There will be teddy bears and chocolates and overpriced flowers. There will be arguments and engagements. Cinema trips and candlelit dinners for two. M & S ready meals. Bottles of house wine. So far, so unsurprising. Chances are, you will have seen all of these things for the last fortnight, as the industry prepares itself for this particular Tuesday. But today it intensifies. Today is Valentine’s Day. Witness the young man in the suit walking quickly, embarrassed, with his clutch of roses. Look at the internet. Depending on how cynical you feel, you will see plenty to entertain you or to make you roll your eyes.
This spectacle – hot-pink, fluffy, commercial, spiky as thorns – also includes that which is meaningful and even a little bit exciting for poets. Today is the day that poetry floods the internet. Even as I write this, #BardLove – Tweeps quoting Shakespeare, no less – is trending. Today, poetry of the common, garden and greetings-card variety permeates everyday experience. And the everyday experience of love is certainly something that poetry can capture, and that it is important to capture.
So, for all you soppy lovebirds out there, here are my favourite love poems. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I’m conscious that I’m writing from a heterosexual perspective here – from a newlywed heterosexual perspective, no less. But these are my favourites for now:
- ‘Raspberries’ by Kate Clanchy. One of the first poems that made me want to write love poems. A sonnet. It speaks of desire, recognition, and fruit.
- ‘If We Could Speak Like Wolves’ by Kim Moore. I had this read at my wedding because I love the way it presents love as a partnership. And I’m a sucker for an animal poem.
- ‘What I learned from the Incredible Hulk’ by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. For all the geeks out there who love other geeks.
- ‘Handyman’ by Lorraine Mariner, which you can find in her collection, Furniture. It’s the last couplet that gets me, every time. While we’re at it, Mariner’s ‘Feathers’ and ‘Say I forgot’ also catch at the back of my throat.
- ‘What Do Women Want?’ by Kim Addonizio. A departure here, in tone. Fierce and powerful, this shows defiance and self-love amid experiences of oppression and violence. And it screams sex.
Poets, along with other artists, tell stories about love that we can relate to. Sometimes these stories are damaging, in that they tell us that certain kinds of manipulative, abusive behaviour are normal and even desirable (hello Romantic Comedy films!) but for today let’s look at the good stuff. Let’s look at the stuff that speaks to those of us lucky enough to have met our life partners. These are the people who are here right now, sharing equally in the messy and colourful business of living. Lastly, here’s my Valentine’s poem. Hope you like it.
Give me the man who keeps a lead in the boot of his car for rescuing loose dogs.
I want him crouching, shooing daft pairs of ducks out of oncoming traffic;
I want the pavement lined with dandelions he steps deftly over, open-palmed.
I want his humane mousetraps, the miniature fences he makes from Cadbury’s fingers,
to send him out jogging at 3am, so two fat rodents can taste chocolate and freedom
in a wildflower meadow. I want him to fix a broken radio
and rig up three extension cables from the garage, so a budgerigar can sing and bob
and see out of a window. I want his unerring, unnerving birdsong whistle;
I want him to bathe his mum’s tortoise every morning
and dry her carefully on old newspaper, while explaining how her shell’s nerve-endings
respond unexpectedly to touch. I want him when he matter-of-factly
puts peanut butter sandwiches out for the badgers. I want him to lay his hands
on my shoulders and loosen the knot at the nape of my neck and I want
to stand on his feet while he spins me in circles. I want him so badly I’m giddy
and ravenous; I want him to follow me, follow me home.
(Originally published in Cheval)