On writing love poetry

Chris Markham, Copy Editor

Writing a love poem is an attempt at figuring out what humans have been struggling to figure out for thousands of years. It is trying to find the right words to describe an indescribable feeling, to reconcile the words in your head with the emotions in your heart. 

Love poetry is one of the oldest genres of poetry in the history of literature. From “Song of Solomon” to the sonnets of William Shakespeare, from the capital-R Romantics to the Instapoets Rupi Kaur and Atticus, there is a plethora of love poems out in the world. However, that makes it no less complicated to write one. 

First of all, you have to find someone to write the poem for, which is enough of a challenge in and of itself. After accomplishing that daunting feat, you have to think about how you feel about that person. How close are the two of you? How long have you been together? Are you ready to write them a poem? Are they ready to receive one? Do you like them or do you love them? 

This all depends on who you are, who the other person is and the nature of your relationship. This is probably the easiest part of the whole process, depending on how in touch you are with your feelings. 

Once you’ve figured out how you feel about this person, you need to decide how you want those feelings to come across in the poem. How serious do you want it to be? Do you want to make them laugh or cry? Maybe, both? How wholesome or sensual do you want the poem to be? Do you want to pour out the entirety of your heart and soul to this person?

Then, there’s the issue of poetic tradition. You have thousands of years of love poetry that was written before you ever even learned to hold a pen. On top of that, you are also surrounded and influenced by just as many years of love stories, not to mention generations of artwork and songs. 

Plus, there is the influence of real-life love that you’ve seen around you in the form of family members, friends, acquaintances and even strangers. How will your poem interact with all of this precedent? Will you build off of it? Will you borrow from it? 

I have a poetry professor who’s famously told me: “Always be on the lookout for what you can steal.”  Will you steal from the great writers of the past and present? Or will you modify the conventions and precedent that they’ve established? Or maybe you’ll reject it entirely?

You also have to consider your own poetic tradition, if you’ve written poetry previously. Do you want this poem to be like other poetry you’ve written? Or do you want to try something different? Have you written poems for this person before? What are they expecting you to write? Will you work within those expectations, or will you subvert them and give them something new?

Another crucial thing to keep in mind is that love poetry is meant to be understood. It is a gift for someone, after all. When you write a love poem for someone, they have to be able to comprehend it, otherwise, the meaning and impact are lost. 

If someone is confused by a love poem you’ve written for them, you cannot just claim that you’re being profound beyond mere mortal understanding, because they just may throw the poem in the trash can and delete your phone number from their contacts list. This is not to say that your love poem cannot be deep or complex, but it cannot be so deep and complex that your recipient cannot understand it. 

These are questions only you can answer. They are dependent entirely on you and your relationship. Ultimately, there is a reason why people have been writing poetry for the people they love for thousands of years; poetry is one of the best and most meaningful ways to express your feelings for another person. 

When you give someone a love poem, you are telling them, “I love you so much, I have placed myself in the company of generations of poets and wordsmiths. I have created words out of what I feel for you in my heart.”

Happy writing, and happy Valentine’s Day.