In one of his Lunch Poems, Frank O’Hara describes reading the poetry of a new friend. Is this love? he asks, sounding uncertain. He feels held in the hands of the poem, experiencing poetry as a form of intimacy or attempted intimacy.
This course came about because I realised, simply, that the love poem – in its bigness and seeming familiarity – is not a soft subject. Rather, the love poem is resourceful, resilient, and tricky. I wanted to share and encourage the writing of unexpected love poems that approach their subject with a twist.
In this course I want to diversify our sense of what a love poem is or can be. So while romantic poems will appear in some of our reading, what I mean by a love poem is not exclusively romantic. I’m especially inspired by poems like Aracelis Girmay’s ‘On Kindness’ and Kenneth Koch’s ‘The Circus’, which draw more subtle and unexpected angles of love, from the warmth of strangers to affection towards friends, a memory, or a city.
We will explore the love poem as a form for distraction and expansion. Diane Wakoski’s ‘Blue Monday’ – a poem about heartbreak – filters its abundant excess of feeling through the colour blue. Other love poems, such as Hera Lindsay Bird’s ‘Pyramid Scheme’, begin with another subject altogether; it is only as we progress that we realise we are inside a love poem at all. What would it be like to write a love poem to an extinct species, a colour, a found object, a fictional character, or a word in the dictionary?
Aside from writing poems of distraction – directing love towards unexpected objects – we will also consider the love poem as a visionary or dreamlike landscape, such as the landscape in Sumita Chakraborty’s Dear, beloved. We will write love poems in the form of letters, inspired by real letters such as this one from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Robert Browning:
Did you ever see a tree after it has been struck by lightning? The whole trunk of that tree was bare and peeled—and up that new whiteness of it, ran the finger-mark of the lightning in a bright beautiful rose-colour (none of your roses brighter or more beautiful!) the fever-sign of the certain death—though the branches themselves were for the most part untouched, and spread from the peeled trunk in their full summer foliage; and birds singing in them three hours afterwards!
We will read love-hate poems, such as Claude McKay’s ‘The White City’, in which the personal arena of the love poem becomes explicitly political. We will read poems that express love with uncensored frankness, such as Sharon Olds’ ‘Unmatching Legs Ode’, and consider how to write about the body with love, as a subject rather than an object.
I hope that students will come away from this course with an expanded landscape for their own love poems – some quiet road map towards glee.
Discover the many different sides of love poetry on Becky’s new online course, Twisted Love. Call 0207 582 1679 or book online.