For the Love of Poetry

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Shortly before the end of my first semester at college, I became acquainted with an English teacher who self-identified as “hard to please.” A polarizing force, students either loved or hated her—most often the latter—and for some mysterious reason, she took a liking to me.

I remember sitting across from her in the café of a bookstore that no longer exists on the corner of Church and Cherry. We ordered tea, chose a seat by the window, and chatted for a solid hour about various topics pertaining to writing and academia. A published author herself, she was remarkably encouraging.

At the time, I was writing a lot of poetry and personal narrative and she had asked me to bring along a few pieces she hadn’t already read for class. She noted that the majority of my poems were about love and then made the casual remark that love was a common theme amongst young people, as though it were something that one would naturally outgrow.

Seven years and two degrees later, I still think about this comment.

I went through an extended creative dry spell after transferring schools and switching majors, but on those rare occasions when I felt the tug of the elusive muse and put pen to paper, out would pour those old, familiar sentiments: love, lust, heartbreak. The phrasing was different (as were the subjects) but the desire to gather my emotions and translate them into something tangible was still there.

Love, passion, intimacy—these are the things that stir my muse; the forces upon which I’ve chosen to construct my creative foundation.

I’ve heard it argued that all writing is an act of love, whether it’s love of another person, an ideal, or a deep appreciation of story. By that logic, even hate mail can be construed as an act of love and most certainly an act of passion—albeit perverse—for what is hate if not the space between the way something is and the way we wish it to be? Hate requires a great deal of emotion and care, unlike indifference, which is arguably harder to stomach.

Perhaps all poems are love poems, in a sense.

I don’t think I will ever outgrow love poetry insofar as I do not think it is possible to outgrow love. I’m not talking about infatuation, though even that has its virtues, if only to remind us that we’re still bleeding and breathing. No, I’m talking about the kind of love that seeps into your bones and lingers for years, even decades, long after the initial belly-flip has flopped and butterflies have flown. I also do not limit my definition of “love poetry” to romantic attachment, since one could argue that poetry pertaining to friendship and filial tenderness is just as valid and potentially longer-lasting.

The English teacher and I have since fallen out of touch. I like to think that she’d be glad to know that I’m writing again, even if my subject matter has only gotten—ahem—more explicit as I explore the deeper, darker corners of love and intimacy.

I’m curious. For those who write about love, sex, passion, attraction, etc., how has your work changed over time? Were there periods in which you found yourself veering away from these topics, consciously or coincidentally? What sorts of reactions do you provoke when you explain (or even show) you work to others?