Poem Sampler

Relationship Poems

An emotionally devastating analysis of five love poems.

by Tao Lin
Relationship Poems
Original illustration by Tao Lin

Here are my thoughts on five poems I like. I have limited my thoughts to a context of “romantic relationships.” I have included, as the last sentence of each set of thoughts, when I would most like to be forced to read each poem for the first time (if I hadn’t already read them).


"Winter" by Michael Earl Craig

When I think about this poem in its entirety, as if it were a phoneme, it feels to me like the first 3–10 weeks of being with “someone I like a lot” whom I suspect likes me a similar amount. The feeling could be described as a low-level, calming, “ameliorative against despair caused by long-term/existential concerns,” and “distantly exciting” sensation of being continuously surprised in a positive manner. I feel interested in viewing a brain scan of Michael Earl Craig when the “idea” of the second stanza "occurred" to him, then comparing that to brain scans of moments in Michael Earl Craig's life when he felt “in love.” One can feel Craig sort of rapidly, incrementally “learning” the idea of the second stanza in the last two lines of the first stanza (“The trainman shudders at the thought. / The trainman’s cat Stamina crunches walnuts in her cat dish.”) in the manner one might “learn” certain things about another person that cause one’s attraction toward the other person to suddenly exist “on another level.” I would most like to be forced to read this poem as the first notable event upon meeting a future significant other, reading it together, so that it could be referenced throughout the relationship.


"Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence" by Matthew Rohrer

This poem conveys to me a specific feeling when, in a relationship, it seems like things have “settled” into something “free of power struggles,” in which intellectually it seems like there “should” be more to strive for, or work toward—as when does it ever not seem like that?—but emotionally it somehow seems like something has been completed, that one is “finally” satisfied relationship-wise, causing one to feel mostly “gratitude.” Because of the theoretical yearning for “more,” though, one seems to feel the gratitude as a kind of “very powerful acceptance,” acceptance to the degree that it becomes sincere gratitude, causing it to be different than “plain gratitude.” It seems like when I have felt this I have been lying on the floor, which is how I imagine the narrator of the poem, maybe because of “I’m writing upside down . . .” (I see the narrator lying on his back, writing on something he is holding above him). The most artistically satisfying/exciting moment for me to be forced to read this poem would maybe be when I am experiencing the feeling I just described and which the poem, to me, also describes.


[The dead girl by the beautiful Bartlett]” by Joshua Beckman

This poem seems like it could be describing two people “fighting” in an urban park near a fountain or a lake. The sentence “The dead girl by the beautiful Bartlett” (Bartlett meaning “a large, yellow, juicy variety of pear”) could be a non sequitur idly “going through” one person’s head, as he/she stands on the sidewalk staring at his/her significant other. Seems like usually during this kind of “fight,” where there is a lot of “standing in place” and staring, there is usually a sentence from a song, or TV, or something, irrelevant to the situation, that gets repeatedly thought, sometimes maybe intentionally (to prolong one’s silence or apparent stoicism via distraction to gain some kind of vague advantage over the other). Within this interpretation all the other lines in this poem seem self-explanatory. It seems “wise” to keep this poem far away from a relationship—doesn’t seem like it would have positive effects on a romantic relationship, for some reason, for either person to read it or know about it.


"McDonald's is Impossible" by Chelsea Martin

Seems like a “riskily long” email one might send to a person he/she likes romantically (and has emailed reciprocally 10–20 times in 5–10 days) while feeling excited that he/she, with this one email, will likely either “ruin the balance” or "deepen the relationship suddenly, productively." Seems like it could also be an email sent 4–7 months into a relationship, as one begins to feel the need to “surprise” the other person in some deliberate manner, to counter becoming too accustomed to each other, and to let the other person know they still care enough to not let things become “stagnant.” (I think I’ve done this and also have had it done to me, and have always liked it, both within the 5–10 day period and the 4–7 month period). I think this can be said of most poems I like, that it seems like an attempt to "suddenly" deepen the relationship [with the reader], in a risky manner, by being either extendedly and self-consciously playful (like in this poem), or by being concisely unexpected (like in “Clown” by Chelsey Minnis or “gigantic mountains” by Brandon Scott Gorrell), or by being emotionally confessional (like in “Jean Rhys” by Ellen Kennedy). I would most like to be forced to read this poem in the situation described in the above poem, I think, because its length and focus would probably make me forget a little what I am “fighting”—or upset—about.


"Mad Lib Elegy" by Ben Lerner

Seems like an intensely skillful misdirection of unrequited like/love into a tightly structured, carefully playful, vaguely “existentially socio-political” poem, in the same way a teenager might direct anger or frustration towards his/her parents by becoming extremely skilled at skateboarding, or competitive gaming, or something. I think what causes me to feel that the narrator of the poem is suffering from “liking someone who doesn’t like them back” is the way the poem seems to begin “firmly” in non sequitur, causing me to view what came before it as something decidedly/determinedly not related to the first line of the poem (a concept that might not make sense as a notable thought, since anything that “begins” a thing is perhaps by default a non sequitur). I feel that the narrator, within this interpretation, probably feels some kind of satisfaction in knowing that he/she has described something he/she isn’t thinking about at all, by using the “powers” generated by what he/she is completely and intensely thinking, which would be something like [an “emo” or “pop-punk” song’s chorus]. Out of the poems in this essay I think I would most be interested in a psychology experiment—of which I would also like to be a participant—where one hundred people who have just been “dumped” to emotionally devastating results in the past hour are forced to read this poem then interviewed about their experience, with accompanying brain-scans.

Originally Published: February 10, 2010


On February 10, 2010 at 5:12pm Waci Lone Hill wrote:
I think this review is insightful, fun and artistically intriguing. Thank You!

On February 10, 2010 at 11:15pm m wrote:
perhaps units will be moved

On February 11, 2010 at 12:19am Joseph Phillips wrote:
Interesting article. The whole
"constantly" "quoting" "common
phrases" "used" by "ordinary" "people"
was quite, as common people put it,
"annoying". See what I mean?

Aside from that, I really disagree with
the analysis first two poem choices, but
liked the critique of the final three. Still
though, the "author's" "smarminess"
"was" "really" "annoying" and
"extended" "beyond" "his" "overuse" of

Although that was the worst of it.

On February 11, 2010 at 1:07pm Anna Van Lenten wrote:
I'd like you to explain your feeling about Winter to a 6 year-old girl.

On February 12, 2010 at 3:18am Landon Manucci wrote:

give it a rest with the "" stuff man. its getting real old. it seems false, non-genuine, and inauthentic. I'm glad you don't do that shit in your prose....

On February 12, 2010 at 1:50pm Holly wrote:
This was good fun to read. Thanks for pointing out some great poems I didn't already know about.

On February 12, 2010 at 4:40pm Emmanuela wrote:
Excruciatingly poor analyses of poetry, in
a study of seemingly puerile views of
interpersonal relations.

There is one lovely poem included, which
was not previously on this site. That is a
welcome addition.

On February 13, 2010 at 9:28am paul wrote:
i think none of these poems were on the site before this essay

On February 13, 2010 at 4:32pm Mylum wrote:
I liked your article, Tao. Some of those other people's comments are mean. I say you can "put" whatever you "want" in quotation marks.

I had never read any of those poems or heard of the authors. I liked them, mostly. I could only get halfway through the McDonald's poem before I got bored and skipped to the last line.

On February 14, 2010 at 4:06pm Mr. Steely wrote:
Fantastic 'perspectives'. Well-written, humorous at times, and interesting. I too had never read any of these 'poems' until now. I am especially 'into' "McDonald's is impossible". Thanks for the great article!

On February 17, 2010 at 12:39pm Tori wrote:
i dont get the mcdonalds one??

On February 19, 2010 at 7:38am Thom Dawkins wrote:
I've yet to decide whether any article
written by Tao Lin should be taken

Glad to see Rohrer on the page, though...

On February 26, 2010 at 12:53am Nick Demske wrote:
I don't want a lot for Christmas
There is just one thing I need
I don't care about the presents
Underneath the Christmas tree

I just want you for my own
more than you could ever know
Make my wish come true
All I want for Christmas
Is you.

On March 15, 2010 at 12:55pm Mather Schneider wrote:
I didn't find these "emotionally devastating" at all.

On March 22, 2010 at 9:59pm Susana Mai wrote:
I once asked Ryan Manning why he thought that he and Tao Lin and other people quoted certain words. Or maybe I read an interview where Tao Lin answered this question. Not sure.

He (who ever 'he' is) said that it was because certain words had different meanings for other people, like how 'freedom fighter' is a very objective term, for example, and so it's necessary to indicate that the word is his own idea of what that particular word 'means.'

It is not supposed to be obnoxious. It is supposed to be truthful.

On March 25, 2010 at 7:27pm ben wrote:

On December 9, 2010 at 10:55am theresa Gay wrote:
i think all of these people make points. but i think poetry is something you do to express yourself to and about others, and how you are feeling at that very moment.

On January 6, 2014 at 1:11am Madeleine wrote:
I DIED when reading this. I totally know those feelings of the vague new relationship or liking of somebody where you can feel yourself pushing against the keel, trying to make things go well with only the vague, indirect influence you have.

The poems were amazing in themselves, and your connection of each poem to one specific but usually vague and nameless feeling in the familiar relationship development process made me so excited because I felt less alone in hearing those usually vague and nameless feelings described by someone else.

You pulled your thoughts and feelings out of your head very well.


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Tao Lin was born in 1983 and earned a BA in journalism from New York University. Known for its flat, affectless style Lin’s work is loaded with references to pop culture and new media and communication technologies. He is the author of the novels Taipei (2013), Richard Yates (2010), and Eeeee Eee Eeee (2007); he has also written the novella Shoplifting from American Apparel (2009), and the short story collection Bed (2007). His . . .

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