Poetry News

No tongue in cheek: Jim Behrle teaches you how to write a LOVE poem!

By Harriet Staff


Jim Behrle just keeps at it. You might have read his interview with Ron Silliman by now--it took place at a minor league baseball game! And it was perhaps the first conversation to include Mr. Peanut and Pound's Cantos in the same breath! Yesterday, over at The Awl, Behrle dispensed some sage advice in a little piece called, "How to Write a Love Poem." A snippet: "(I know Maya Angelou isn’t dead. She just lives in heaven.)" Wow. But really:

When is the right time in a relationship to present someone with a poem? A good question. The line between creepy and romantic is ever shifting. . . . You could find yourself floating or smashed on the boardwalk like a heel-crushed hotdog. That’s the fun of it! It starts as a funny feeling in the stomach and then quickly goes on to flood the brain. Soon we're constantly thinking about them, wondering what they look like without pants on, trying to remember their schedule at the yoga place. Poets actually know more about longing than they do about love. Poets fall in love with other people’s wives, people who don’t love them back. They're human, in other words; and humans weren't built for happiness. They were built for dissatisfaction and yearning.

So, what’s your story? For whom do you yearn? Could be your parole officer. Or the guy you hired to kill your ex. We generally are attracted to complication: people who it might be impossible to pursue. As the great John Wieners wrote, “The poem does not lie to us. We lie under its law.” I quote that a lot, because it’s the most important thing a poem can do: communicate energy and Capital T Truth to the reader. In this case to someone you think is pretty special. So make your Truth sound pretty good.

One can always Try. Or cry. And what does Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues have to do with it? We'll skip that part. First step is the blank page. Behrle suggests an acrostic with your beloved's name. Also good advice--avoid italics, and use humor. Then he moves on to the sonnet: "Rhyme, don’t rhyme! You don't need to be trendy. Anyway, the trendy thing in poetry these days is to have a twin that also writes poems, so, unless you have a twin, that’s out. And don’t worry about it. Love makes us all act like awkward nerds." Ruh-roh. More on the sonnet:

At the sausage place I am thrilled to view
A woman I hope has a cool tumblr.
With all the world’s wild beauty she’s imbued
In her glowing presence I feel humbler.

I think "imbued" might actually mean "bleeding." So I have to look that up. Nope. It just means she’s dipped in beauty, that it permeates her being. Not too bad. Better than “due.” I try to keep the poem sounding like me, i.e., I make dumb jokes and generally evince low self-esteem. I know women are supposed to love fake confidence, but no one really feels confident all the time. Especially not when writing poems addressed to strangers in butcher shops. So the poem is me, even though I have punked Shakespeare a little. Stealing a little from other poets is a part of all poetry, but now that things can be Googled, you have to be careful. Stealing a little is an homage or an allusion. Stealing a lot is, you’re a thief and a fraud. Not very sexxy.

I would love to see her page on Facebook
I’d click 'like' over everything that’s there.
I speak only in odd gobbledygook
When I’m ordering sausage up in here.

"There" and "here" aren't great together. But the rest is charming enough. And the keys to a great sonnet are having a great beginning and a great ending. No one remembers the middle—they're too busy tearing off their clothes (and, hopefully, yours as well).

I bloom like a dandelion in my mind
Every Sunday morning agog and sweet.
I know I’ll stop by and you’ll be so kind
While I order delicious breakfast meats.

I changed "sweetly indeed" to "agog and sweet" after I wrote the "delicious breakfast meats" line. Slant rhyme is good, too. But nice, full rhymes are also great. And it took but a little poeting to move it around. But now for the big finale. How will I complete this masterpiece to meats and pretty ladies?

More on how to write a love poem from the lovely Jim Behrle right here.

Originally Published: September 28th, 2011