Writing Love Poems

The following text, slightly edited here, and with the epigraph added, first appeared in Robert Lee Brewer’s “Poetic Asides” blog for Writer’s Digest magazine on 14 February 2010. My contribution was written in response to Robert’s query about the art of writing love poems. Unfortunately, Robert’s original blog posting is no longer available on the Writer’s Digest website. If it were, you could read many comments in addition to mine about love poetry.

“I think all poetry is erotic. It’s the Pleasure Principle. You could spend the afternoon in bed with your mistress or writing the poem and it would use the same sort of energy.”

        —Medbh McGuckian, The Irish Review, Autumn–Winter 1994

It seems to me that most poems are love poems, to some degree. We are passionate enough about a subject that we feel moved to write about it. A traditional love poem is just one facet of this passion for life.

        The 1,300-year-old waka tradition in Japanese poetry (that begat tanka, and then haiku) is rooted in love, as nobles of the Imperial Court traded love poems with each other before consummating an attraction by meeting. A thousand years ago, these poems were how the nobility flirted. The poems succeeded then and still do today because they were restrained and sometimes oblique, engaging the imagination. A good love poem often implies rather than states. Paradoxically, understatement has the power to convey the deepest passion.

        My favourite love poet is E. E. Cummings: “one’s not half two; it’s two are halves of one.” He speaks about love with transcendent passion, with variety, and sometimes with grit. His book 1 x 1 is by far my favourite book of (mostly) love poems. “(with a spin / leap / alive we’re alive) / we’re wonderful one times one.”

        Here’s a haiku of mine written for my wife:


Valentine’s Day—

she reminds me

to fasten my seatbelt                   +


It’s these simple acts that show love, and it’s wonderful if a poem can capture them.