Hmmm. It appears that my taste in poetry is sadly out of date according to yesterday’s readings. Thing is, one has to buy the latest poetry books to keep up to date (of course these new poets are not going to post their poetry online like you and I do – they’ve usually got tenure and royalty to claim from their published books) and poetry books are at the bottom of my wishlist.
Anyway, thank goodness for the Web! So. Here below are several sonnets (okay, they’re not strictly sonnets!) that grabbed me the most yesterday. I wonder: does anyone else spend VDay immersed in verse?
I love you as the sunlight leads the prowOf a ship which sailsFrom Hartford to Miami, and I love youBest at dawn, when even before I am awake the sunReceives me in the questions which you always pose.
Kenneth Koch, To You
If you’re sick of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s How Do I Love Thee? read Kenneth Koch’s ode to his love here.
That morning, when she asked me to leave, wearing only
The apricot tinted, fraying chemise, I wanted to stay.
But I also wanted to go, to lose her suddenly, almost
For no reason, & certainly without any explanation.
I remember looking down at a pair of singular tracks
Made in a light snow the night before, at how they were
Gradually effacing themselves beneath the tires
Of the morning traffic, & thinking that my only other choice
Was fire, ashes, abandonment, solitude.
(Larry Levis, My Story in a Late Style of Fire)
Read Larry Levis’ entire poem here (I guarantee you a gut-wrenching read!)
Not a red rose or a satin heart.
I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.
I am trying to be truthful.
Not a cute card or a kissogram.
I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.
(Carol Ann Duffy, Valentine)
Sigh! Wish I could write like that … ah well, who else but a poet would try to offer an onion to his/her object of affection? (Update: British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy is coming to Dubai for the 8th Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on March 1-12 … am so excited! )
i think of lovers as trees, growing to and
from one another searching for the same light,
my mothers laughter in a dark room,
a photograph greying under my touch,
this is all i know how to do, carry loss around until
i begin to resemble every bad memory,
every terrible fear,
every nightmare anyone has ever had.
i ask did you ever love me?
you say of course, of course so quickly
that you sound like someone else
i ask are you made of steel? are you made of iron?
you cry on the phone, my stomach hurts
i let you leave, i need someone who knows how to stay.
Warsan Shire’s verses contain so much honesty, they make you cry. And think about what it’s like to be a black African woman today. She’s not the only one to write with raw honesty that verges on the sublime, though. Below are some verses written during the Middle Ages (believe it or not!)
If anyone asks you
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
When someone mentions the gracefulness
of the nightsky, climb up on the roof
and dance and say,
If anyone wants to know what “spirit” is,
or what “God’s fragrance” means,
lean your head toward him or her.
Keep your head toward him or her.
When someone quotes the old poetic image
about clouds gradually uncovering the moon
slowly loosen knot by knot the strings
of your robe.
If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,
don’t try to explain the miracle.
Kiss me on the lips.
Like this. Like this.
(Rumi, Like This)
It’s hard to believe the verses above were written by a Sufi mystic/poet. Read Like This and other Rumi poems here and be stirred by words written several centuries ago. Of course, Sufi mystics and lovestruck musicians don’t have a monopoly on sexually charged verses. According to the Bible, they’ve been around for several millenia. Don’t believe me? Consider these
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
Song of Songs 1:2
He brought me to the banqueting house,
and his banner over me was love.
Sustain me with raisins;
refresh me with apples,
for I am sick with love.
His left hand is under my head,
and his right hand embraces me!
Song of Songs 2:4-6
I will seek him whom my soul loves.
I sought him, but found him not.
The watchmen found me
as they went about in the city.
“Have you seen him whom my soul loves?”
Scarcely had I passed them
when I found him whom my soul loves.
I held him, and would not let him go
until I had brought him into my mother’s house,
and into the chamber of her who conceived me.
Song of Songs 3:2-4
Hopefully, these three examples are sufficient to show that Scripture contains content of an erotic nature. Of course, some of the metaphors are now obscured by time …
Your hair is like a flock of goats
leaping down the slopes of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
that have come up from the washing,
all of which bear twins,
and not one among them has lost its young.
Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
and your mouth is lovely.
Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
behind your veil.
Your neck is like the tower of David,
built in rows of stone;
on it hang a thousand shields,
all of them shields of warriors.
Song of Songs 4:1-4
But. Believe me, listening to a read-aloud of certain verses from Song of Songs can put my significant other in a romantic mood. Anyway, for those die-hard romantics, here’s one from Neruda, er, E.e. Cummings (a friend suggested I print it out, hence the photo). The roses came from my garden – yes, roses bloom in the desert soil and aren’t they lovely?
Speaking of writing in a digital age, The Atlantic’s A Modern Guide to the Love Letter is a seriously funny piece! Meaning, it gave several laugh-out-loud moments. Of course not everyone will appreciate such an article. After all, not everyone remembers receiving snail mail or the fastidiousness associated with writing love letters. But I do since I was sometimes asked to do so by my classmates at university.
Lastly, if the overdose of literary expressions of love or whatever sentiment yesterday made you puke, consider this post-modern take on love from a Romantic poet. Belated Hearts Day, everyone!
And what is love? It is a doll dress’d upFor idleness to cosset, nurse, and dandle;A thing of soft misnomers, so divineThat silly youth doth think to make itselfDivine by loving, and so goes onYawning and doting a whole summer long,Till Miss’s comb is made a pearl tiara,And common Wellingtons turn Romeo boots;Then Cleopatra lives at number seven,And Antony resides in Brunswick Square.Fools! if some passions high have warm’d the world,If Queens and Soldiers have play’d deep for hearts,It is no reason why such agoniesShould be more common than the growth of weeds.Fools! make me whole again that weighty pearlThe Queen of Egypt melted, and I’ll sayThat ye may love in spite of beaver hats.
(John Keats, Modern Love)