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“Let Me Count The Ways”: In Defense Of The Amateur Love Poem

“Don’t write love poems.”

This is the advice that author John Baker gives in his blog.

“Do not write love-poems; avoid at first those forms that are too facile or commonplace: they are the most difficult, for it takes a great, fully matured power to give something of your own where good and even excellent traditions come to mind in quantity. Therefore save yourself from these general themes and seek those which your own everyday life offers you.”

This theory is extremely convicting. Reading the love sonnets of William Shakespeare or Elizabeth Barrett Browning will give any aspiring love poet a slap in the face. How could I say any better what they have already said? 

Three Reasons To Avoid Writing Love Poetry:

1) Love is the oldest and most famous theme for poetry or any other medium. Trying to find new ways to express love can be excrutiating and leave you feeling like you’re simply rephrasing other people’s work.

2) There is a lot of it. The sheer bulk of love poetry out there (both famous and amateur) will very possibly keep yours from being noticed or given the aplomb it may deserve.

3) People force it. They write love poetry for the sake of writing love poetry, and this makes it ten times more difficult to write with any sincerity or originality.

Having acknowledged the challenges to writing love poetry, let me tell you what I really think. I disagree strongly with John Baker’s theory, and here is why.

Problems With John Baker’s Theory:

1) It is discouraging. Imagine if someone had told Elizabeth Barrett Browning not to write love poetry because Shakespeare said it the best. Besides, if there is one thing you should not say to an aspiring writer is “You can’t, because someone else will always do it better.”

I had an English professor once who told a classmate that if he couldn’t write a comedy about friendship better than The Odd Couple then he shouldn’t even try. The sad part is that he didn’t try, and what could have been America’s next top-rated sitcom was lost to “expert advice”.

2) It is untrue. People don’t care about whether or not your poetry has “great, fully-matured power” behind it. If it does, that’s wonderful, congratulations. They want to relate to it. They want it to be original. And that’s something you can do.

Everyone experiences love differently, is in love with a different person, and has gone through unique experiences while in the thrall of said love. Granted, it will be difficult to bring fresh words to the oldest and most well-known themes in the universe, but you can do it if you are sincere. And being sincere is all that matters.

3) It misses the whole point. So you cannot write love poetry as well as the Great Dead Ones of the nineteenth century So what? Writing is about self-expression. Anything that comes after that self-expression is simply a bonus.

Love begs expression more than any other emotion, and therefore begs to be written about. So indulge yourself! And even if no one else reads it or likes it, what matters is that you stretched your literary muscles and achieved something you might have thought you couldn’t do.

If you want proof that good love poetry is still alive and kicking, just visit any writing website. Hello Poetry is a good place to start. That’s where I found this little gem, which bravely begins:

i’ve been
reading poetry
ee cummings and–
sylvia plath
pretty pools of words filled with color

–and ducks

. . .

they talk about love like it’s
broken–painful–deadly–
always wonderfully beautiful
(like the beautiful snake whose
poison’s killing you)

that’s not
love

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2013 in Writing

 

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