Writing Exercise: Love Poem

In my Valentine’s Day card inspiration post, I linked to a selection of love poems that can be found on the Academy of American Poets site.


Valentine from a few years ago, with a little help from e.e. cummings.

There I found a poem by David Lehman that begins like this:

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 8.47.53 PM

(Clicking on this image will take you to the full text of the poem.)

And I was reminded that almost any poem can become a springboard to another work.

I will be honest:  I’m not in love with this particular poem. However, I love the idea of playing with the notion that we can describe how we know that a woman is in love with a man (or a man with a woman) through a collection of particular moments that tell us so. I like the idea of exploring what we say and what our words really mean.

I like the idea of pulling those moments from our own lives, thinking about what actions, words, moments told us that we were in love with another, or another with us. So I gave myself an assignment:

Do a free-write about the moments that tell me I love Cane.

Here’s my first shot at the exercise:





Yeah, I got nothing from my prompt. So I went looking for photos that might take me back to a moment. Often, something tangible and concrete will give me a way into a piece of writing. I found this, from a summer evening several years ago:

scooter on lolo passThat yielded this:

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 5.45.36 PMI got stuck again. So I put it away and went to work and thought about the memory, and when I came home this afternoon I came up with this:

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 5.51.06 PMSomehow, giving myself permission to change the syntax from the springboard poem freed me up. Instead of “When she says…” I wrote, “I will say…” I preferred first-person to third.

This still isn’t a finished poem, and I don’t know if I will finish it. I don’t know if it will make it onto the Valentine card. But I had fun remembering the evening and trying to put it to some words.

IMGP5385Comments and questions are always welcome.


16 thoughts on “Writing Exercise: Love Poem

  1. Marian says:

    I love playing with words too, although until fairly recently (the last 2 or 3 years) it’s mainly all been in my head, if that makes sense.

    These days, the subject of poetry makes me think of a couple of things:

    I’m of Dutch descent and I recently found out that the Dutch have a tradition at Christmastime (well, actually St. Nicholas Eve, December 5th) in which gifts are accompanied by verses, oftentimes humorous, written about the receiver, by the giver. The fact that this charming tradition was somehow lost in the marriage of my German father to my Dutch mother fills me (a person who loves words) with a fair measure of sadness, and I think I need to make a mental note to think about this again come September, in order to see if I can somehow revive this tradition in my own family.

    Secondly, a few years ago, my husband told me that the “hi” and “re: hi” subject headings in my nearly daily emails to my best friend (who still lives in my home city) were completely unimaginative and boring. (He was right). Thinking on how to liven things up, I somehow came across the site “daysoftheyear.com” and each day’s subject heading turned from “hi” into “happy (whatever day the site told me it was)”, which was quite fun. And then May 12th came along: Limerick Day! And this was when the fun escalated, first, into hilarity, as I went about the day thinking up limericks, having the kids make up limericks, my husband, my best friend, her kids, her husband…but then the whole thing quickly spiralled downward, as I found the making up of limericks strangely addictive and wanted to carry on well beyond the 12th of May, which no one else really appreciated! And yes, limericks are, I’m quite sure, the lowest of the low, poetry-wise, but in my defence, I am just a wannabe-English major, and my eight years of science and pharmacy probably left me completely unsuited for anything higher 😉
    Marian recently posted…Processed Food is a Slippery SlopeMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I never knew that about St. Nicholas Eve, but I love that idea. That would actually be something I’d like to do in a Valentine’s card. But what I really want to say is: Scientists can be fabulous poets. Good poets are those who examine things closely, use language precisely, and see connections between disparate things. Good scientists do those things, too. Some of the best writing I’ve read has been in the Best American Science collections. Also, I’m not a poetry snob. Love a good limerick (though I’m no good at writing them).

  2. leilani says:

    Yay!!! Rita’s back! I am so NOT a poetry fan because I’ve had to listen to cheesy contrived work by people who say they love poetry.

    And then there’s your poem. It was pure thought, pure real instance, so human. The only thing that’s missing is Garrison Keilor’s voice reading it. 🙂
    leilani recently posted…The Rotisserie Chicken AddictMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      You are too nice. But I have a love/hate thing with poetry myself. I actually do love it, but I’m a huge snob. Too cheesy and I hate it, but I also hate too obscure/serious/purposely difficult. There’s definitely a narrow sweet spot for me with poetry.

    • Rita says:

      Thanks, Jill. I’m enjoying a bit of play, too. I will admit, it was hard for me to post such a rough piece of writing for all to see. It occurred to me that playing in public requires some vulnerability. I’m already learning things from this experiment with play. 🙂

    • Rita says:

      I haven’t written poetry in about 5 years. I’m looking forward to writing in that way again. I felt pretty rusty! Glad to know someone will like it!

  3. Jen says:

    I love this! I love the coming back and trying again and playing with it but mostly I love the feeling of it. What a wonderful memory. I know it’s your memory but it takes me back to a motorcycle ride through the mountains on the back of a motorcycle – beautiful during the day but entirely too cold at night. I haven’t thought about that in a long time.

    I’m so happy to see you “back” online and doing what makes you happy with the space. Yay!
    Jen recently posted…Photo Friday – Coastal PelicansMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Thanks, Jen. I have a love/hate relationship with the back of Cane’s scooter. So often it’s lovely when we head out, but too cold on the way back. That particular night, though, was perfect. Glad my memory triggered a good one for you.

  4. Sarah says:

    I love this! Your switch from third person to first person really makes the poem, I think. I don’t love the original poem either, and I think the reason is that it’s kind of patronizing — when a man loves a woman, he understands that she doesn’t really know what a daquiri is. You know? Sorry to make it all about gender once again! 🙂 But it irks. I love the way that you have transformed this formula in your own poem, making it more about how a person might say one thing and mean another for complex reasons. Or how things might pass unspoken between a couple, but there’s a trust that the communication will be received. Brava!
    Sarah recently posted…Thoughts on month one of dressing like a birch forestMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Yes, I know! That is exactly why I didn’t love the poem. I felt like he was saying not only that he knew more than she did what she meant, but that she was also unreasonable/irrational. Especially in the first part of the poem. I don’t know if that has to be about gender, but it sure seemed to conform to gender stereotypes. I picture the speaker in the poem as a particular kind of male I don’t much like.

      Thanks for the feedback on how my version reads to you; it’s always helpful to see what sense a reader is making of a text I’m in process on.

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