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Poem Sampler

Relationship Poems

An emotionally devastating analysis of five love 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.

  • 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...

Poem Sampler

Relationship Poems

An emotionally devastating analysis of five love poems.
  • 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...

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