Thinking of Writing a Romance Poem? Here’s Your Thonk on the Head

Lately, I’ve been reading lots of poems by writers who categorize their pieces as romance. I don’t seek out romance poems and sometimes, I’ll admit, they make me squirm right off my chair. I’ve been reading pieces that are raw, by new poets who are either young enough or haven’t read enough yet to understand that a writer has to work really, really hard to create a romance poem that says something new. It’s a tender thing to critique this kind of writing, because it’s so close to the jugular for the author. One unkind word can slay their desire to write more. Ever.

Of course, I know that writers who are determined to make a writing life have to be tough, have to be able to take it if the critique of their work is not filled with laudatory comments. That still doesn’t give me permission to be unkind in my own response. It does wear me down, though. At the end of a week that has been filled with poems of the first love who is now going off to college in another state or the poignancy of the lover who is no longer there or the angst of the lonely loverless person, I am sometimes only able to manage a phrase like, “this poem doesn’t work for me.” I can’t think of anything else I really want to say that would actually be helpful to the writer. Cop out on my part? Maybe. 

So, here’s a thought or two for people who really want to write romantic poetry. 

If you’re in the throes of a break-up, write your poetry in your journal and leave it there. Very few of us can make art that is really good when we feel like we just want to die. Use that journal later, after the pain has eased, to pull out some thoughts that might turn into something. But make them unique. Most of us have been through the worst break-up ever. What makes yours so special? 

Shakespearean language in the year 2010 may not be your best option. Shakespeare‘s sonnets are romantic, yes, but things really have moved on. Language has evolved. Try the sonnet form if you must, but use your own lexicon.

Along those same lines, don’t mix old English terms with modern English terms. This is not romantic. It makes you sound like you don’t know what you’re doing.

Cliches that come to mind should be left in the mind. They will not help your poetry, no matter how white her skin is or how creamy her thighs or how tall, dark and handsome he is. The sun does not really set in your love’s eyes and your heart does not beat for them, biologically speaking. What else have you got?

If you’ve just written a love poem to a guy while you sat in the girls’ bathroom crying your eyes out, don’t submit it anywhere no matter what your friends say.

If you’ve just written a love poem inspired by a Lady Gaga song, don’t submit it anywhere no matter how much it seems like something she’d appreciate.

If this is your very first love poem, keep it for yourself. It’s not meant to go anywhere. Really.

Graphic descriptions of sex are not particularly romantic. They’re just, well, graphic. Sometimes pornographic. Be careful. 

And, finally, read some really good stuff. At first, try actual poetry books as opposed to things published online, simply so that you don’t have to try and figure out if the site you’re looking at has good poets or just publishes anyone who shows up. Yes, go read Shakespeare, then move along through history and see how romance has been defined, manipulated, reconstructed, sought, lost, all of it. Go read some Keats, some Shelley. Try William Blake, Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, e.e. cummings. Check out Margaret Atwood, Pablo Neruda, Ranier Maria Rilke, Jim Moore, Raymond Carver. I could fill pages with possibilities. But get a sense of what’s been done so you don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re the first to write about what you deem as a romantic situation. You’re probably not. Deconstruct the published poetry to see what makes it tick, what makes it work. Then go write some more of your own.

Really romantic poetry allows for the messiness of a relationship, the redemption of love that has time to make that transition from lust to something deeper. It looks hard at another person and still finds them worth loving. Now, that’s romantic.

DO A KIND THING

Check out DoOneNiceThing.com, founded in 2005 by Debbie Tenzer in Los Angeles. The idea behind the site was originally to make a habit of doing something nice for someone else every Monday. A weekly habit of being nice can change the world! Since the site was started, “Nice-o-holics” have done much good; you can find a list of some very gracious acts of niceness on the site. And, you can subscribe via email to keep up on what others are doing to make the world a better place. By the way, that email only arrives once a month, so why not?

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