"My love is like a red, red rose," Scotsman Robert Burns crooned more than two centuries ago. Great analogy? Ridiculously clichéd garbage? No matter. Writers repeatedly hurl themselves into Cupid's tumultuous domain, attempting to capture love's sublime feelings in words. SFR asked several local poets for their own experiences of this enterprise: What were your early love poems like? Do you write love poems to woo a specific person? What do you think about sex poems? Is the love poem dead? How do you feel when someone writes a love poem about you?
***image1***Jon Davis, professor of creative writing at the Institute for American Indian Arts:
Early efforts: "I'd rather immolate myself in the automotive aisle at Wal-Mart than reveal one of those."
Roses are red: "I know it's sacrilege to say so out loud, but the world's most famous love poems are, frankly, pretty bad poems. I'm referring here to Pablo Neruda's Veinte Poemas de Amor…"
Long live love poems: "I'd guess that love poems are more complicated and cautious and qualified now-less, as the surrealists had hoped, 'convulsive.'"
On sex: "I'll quote my friend Chuck Calabreze, who once said on the subject of love and sex: 'Either without the other is neither.' Chuck has a way of answering every question with a potential bumper sticker."
***image2***Matt Donovan, professor of creative writing at the College of Santa Fe, author of the upcoming book of poems Vellum:
Early efforts: "In high school, I worked long hours on one piece and carefully wrote it out for a Valentine's Day presentation to my object of obsession. She read through it while I blushed and squirmed, eagerly awaiting her reply. Instead of swooning, though, she merely asked, 'On this line, did you mean to misspell "immense"?'"
Roses are red: "The feelings of love do not constitute a poem. I'm much more interested in the employment of language than the sentiment itself."
Long live love poems: "There's no chance the love poem is dead! I see wild and exhilarating love poems from young writers all the time in my poetry workshops. However, no 'uber-wooers' allowed. Aren't most of us clods when it comes to love?"
On sex: "Too much information can sabotage a piece of writing and is perhaps best left in the bedroom. But then again, Shakespeare's 'Sonnet 129' is all about sex-it's a lust-driven piece not even bothered to be disguised as a love sonnet."
***image3***Gary Mex Glazner, director of the Alzheimer's Poetry Project, author of How to Make a Living as a Poet:
Early efforts: "When I was 6 in Staten Island, the neighborhood kids and I used to slip behind the apartment building and rub our butts together chanting, 'Jelly, jelly, cha, cha, cha.' That was my first love poem."
Roses are red: "On first blush, I want to say modern love poems are more graphic, but you go back to Shakespeare and he was always going on about 'bulls' pizzles,' 'bung nippers' and 'nests of spicery.' All those old poets were lousy with their 'Neapolitan bone aches.'"
On sex: "With the fearless, feminist porn being written by Liz Belile and the poets in her Gynomite anthology, poems that challenge you to take eroticism in your own hand, I think love/sex poems sizzle. They certainly conflate me."
***image4***Dana Levin, professor of creative writing at the College of Santa Fe, author of poetry collections In the Surgical Theater and Wedding Day:
Early efforts: "Many years ago, a lovely young man once induced me to write 'the red weeds of your vegetable hair'-which is the only line I can remember from that sea-filled poem."
Roses are red: "I think ee cummings' great contribution to modern American poetry is the refreshed love poem. I really love his poem that begins 'Thy fingers make early flowers of/all things./thy hair mostly the hours love.' Guess I've got a hair thing."
Long live love poems: "The love poem is never dead. But they're harder to write confidently in this irony-prone age, especially when we seem so wary of expressive, sincere emotion."
Receiving a love poem: "Please have love poems sent to me immediately."
***image5***Valerie Martinez, professor of creative writing at the College of Santa Fe, author of the poetry collection Absence, Luminescent:
The woo factor: "No, love poems are not part of my 'woo kit.' Dammit, why didn't I think of that earlier?"
On sex: "If poets don't know the difference between sex and love, we're in serious trouble. For my part, I love (pun intended) sex poems for all sorts of noble and puerile reasons. But they must not perpetuate any clichés about men, women, animals or sex-and-love."
Receiving a love poem: "I would love to say that many, many love poems have been written to me. I wouldn't know. No, I correct myself; in junior high school, my boyfriend wrote (in my yearbook): 'To Val: 2 good/2 be/4 got 10/To the best chick I know. Love M.' Can you believe I broke up with that guy?"
***image6***Carol Moldaw, professor of creative writing at Stonecoast College, author of four books of poetry, including The Lightning Field:
Roses are red: "Love poems-like all poems, but more so-are a matter of serendipity; they are as unpredictable, unforceable, unstoppable as love."
The woo factor: "I have written love poems as long as I have written poems, but have never consciously set out to woo someone with one."
On sex: "I think a feeling of intimacy is what a love poem strives for, not flattery or self-aggrandizement."
Long live love poems: "The love poem will be one of the last expressions of the self to go. Tones and modes change, but the changes are superficial."
Receiving a love poem: "Yes, love poems have been written to me. Hearing them read aloud in a public poetry reading, however, can sometimes cause me a feeling of embarrassment. On the other hand, I wouldn't want my husband [Santa Fe Poet Laureate Arthur Sze] to stop writing them!"
***image7***Miriam Sagan, poetry teacher and author of more than a dozen books, including Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love):
Early efforts: "Torture could not get me to share an early love poem…"
Roses are red: "I'm fond of most, including Shakespeare's sonnets, Pablo Neruda and Yosano Akiko's sexy tanka collected as Tangled Hair. I actually think love poems are as classic as a black dress or a piece of chocolate cake. The love poem tends to overstate the love object, whine, yearn, lust, despair, possess, degrade the love object, wallow, mope, etc. As do we."
Receiving a love poem: "For some reason, my husband has tended to give me vegetables as tokens of romance-like nice bunches of early asparagus. If you want to write one, my best tip is to make a list about the loved one and be as specific as possible."
***image8***Arthur Sze, Santa Fe poet laureate and professor of creative writing at the Institute for American Indian Arts:
Long live love poems: "I'd like to cite Pablo Neruda's Veinte Poemas de Amor as a favorite book of love poems. No. 14 has a singular combination of mystery, sensuality and desire that culminates with the closing lines: 'Quiero hacer contigo/lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos'; I want/to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees."