“Do not write love-poems; avoid at first those forms that are too facile and commonplace: they are the most difficult, for it takes a great, fully matured power to give something of your own good where good and even excellent traditions come to mind in quantity.”
Rainer Maria Rilke doles out this gem in letter one of his staggeringly famous work, Letters to a Young Poet. Letter one and he’s already nixing the most admired of forms. Sure you can buy your beloved gourmet chocolates—they’re doing amazing things with tarragon cacao these days—or sun-kissed sustainable tulips, but they will eat the chocolate and the flowers, I’m sorry to say, will die. But a love poem, that’s the eternal ticket to the beating heart. So let’s make your beloved fall to their proverbial knees. Here is some advice as you travel down that road less taken.
Hard copy is best. Sure it’s easy to type out. Tweets have limits like haikus so that sort of counts. And it’s true, if the poem was saved to your hard drive or, for the sake of poetry, to a cloud, there’s a chance it will remain forever in the ether, which is a nice thought. But there’s something to say about the antiquated form of pen and ink that is romantic, in that super cute grade school note-passing sort of way.
Vulnerability is mandatory. You must put yourself out there or you might as well just buy those delicious chocolates, yum. Announcing your feelings, whether bitter or sweet is a cathartic experience. When the teacher asks if anyone is brave enough to read their poem aloud in class, you know Julia Stiles jumps at the chance, really razing whatever wall stands between her and the room. It’s like every time she says “hate” she means “love,” ya know? And it’s all to the dreamboat Heath, whose future Brokeback performance is vulnerability at its best.
Songs are poems with a backup band. There are some great songwriters out there that need to be tapped into for inspiration, even in pop songs. Joni Mitchell’s “Case of You” reads like a love letter. Granted this one is post-break up with Graham Nash but even so, certain lines bypass the b.s. and head straight for the prize:
Love is touching souls Surely you touched mine Cuz part of you pours out of me In these lines from time to time.
Humor, humor, humor! Get fun and funny with it. No need to be such a lemon licker all the time. If you’re having trouble channelling your funny bone, have a drink, perhaps that will loosen you up a bit. Inside jokes are key to this. Your beloved will realize that no one else in the world would laugh at those specific words and that’s definitely worth a peck on the check or a nice firm hug at the very least.
Say it without saying it at all. In reference to a kiss and without even mentioning the word, Ann Sexton writes:
My nerves are turned on. I hear them like musical instruments. Where there was silence, the drums, the strings are incurably playing. You did this. Pure genius at work. Darling, the composer has stepped into the fire.
What a steam machine!
Rhyming is totally okay. There are many haters on rhyme, be it internal or external or half rhyme or imperfect rhyme (or mind rhyme, which is a weird one), they’re all like: who do you think you are / you silly goose / you’re not the cat in the hat / and you’re def not Dr. Seuss. I say please, please, please, rhyme away. Anything to get your thoughts on paper and into the hands of your beloved. Just avoid talking of oranges at all costs.
Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose. That little guy ticking away inside your chest is the kindling to your poetic flame. Dig deep and don’t give up. From “This Is Where We Live,” Pablo Neruda writes:
I love all the things there are, and of all fires love is the only inexhaustible one; and that’s why I go from life to life, from guitar to guitar, and I have no fear of light or of shade and almost being Earth myself, I spoon away at infinity.
Blaze on, fellow bard, blaze on.