love and poetry

(c) 2009 The Writer's Block

Both love and poetry, of course, are staples of fantasy literature.  That’s not the main reason you see them boldly at the byline, though.

I’ve been following The Writer’s Block with some interest since its conception.  A young, eclectic, international literary journal from Canada, they’re out to rediscover poetry, and human emotion, and many other things editor Ben Gehrels explains on the website better than I could.

Part of that rediscovery process is their forum, a scrum of ideas and questions that can’t fit into an issue.  For a few months now, one of the topics there has been the love poem.  The conversation has taken several unique turns, landing at last on that bizarre cohesion of theory, praxis, writing, and musicals that we here at the Paradoxes love .

I hadn’t but finished my latest reply when I realized you dear people would probably have thoughts of your own to contribute. So, courtesy the Writer’s Block Forum, welcome to the conversation.

amberlee – thanks again for your post.  Let start with a quick confession—I’m completely fascinated with musicals as an art form.  I’ve divided my poetic energy over the past few years between ‘literary’ poetry and ‘lyrics’, of the musical sort.

In fact, a few years back when I was going through a terribly difficult period in my relationship with my then girlfriend (now wife—it worked out to a happy ending!), I actually wrote more lyrics than poems.  Don’t know what that says about me psychologically, but it says something about the latent power of the art form.  Lyrics, too, can house potent and emotive self-expression.

So yes, I think you’re spot on with your ideas regarding musicals.  Even as literary writers, we shouldn’t ignore the medium.  It’s very different from literary poetry, of course, but no less difficult and promising in its way.

In re your questions—I’m not sure whether love is a choice or not.  Certainly it’s not ‘self-authenticating’, in the sense that it is a choice I make to assert my personhood.  And there’s a strong element of the haphazard in love—the way the light caught her hair, the way he smiled, that really cute pickup line.  Suddenly this person, this friend or colleague or neighbour, becomes something more, someone other.  Often enough, that sort of attraction seems arbitrary, almost irrational.

(c) 2009 The Writer's Block

But there are choices surrounding that.  Constant and perpetual choices we never stop needing to make.  Staying in to do homework instead of going for coffee, letting the phone go to voicemail.  We might not choose where love will glimmer, but we can and do choose to nurture it, or let it die—which sometimes, sadly enough, it needs to.

That may be why the people you know can talk about ‘choosing’ to stay with someone.  We do not need to make ‘validating choices’ to vindicate our own self-worth, or demand ‘validating actions’ from our partner, but we do need to make choices to affirm our earlier validation that, yes, I will love this person and not let that love die.  From the initial invitation to coffee onwards, both people make choices that will validate or cancel the embryonic flutter of love.

The poetry of love can and should explore all these things.  Yes, we do ‘have a responsibility to look at ourselves and break down this isolation’—the isolation of ourselves from ourselves, from others, the smothering of our questioning for truth in the garble of cliché.  Our writing descends into the particular of our experience, our emotion, and so become wide enough to touch the world.  Because, really, everyone knows what it’s like to treasure ‘the way you hold your knife | the way you drink your tea.’

A love poem—George MacDonald’s brooding ‘Love Me, Beloved’ (1851), or Yeats’s haunting ‘Aedh wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’ (1899), for instance—takes those immediate, emotional experiences and burrows through them in search of truth, of hope.  In a way, it’s like the therapy you mentioned, reflecting on what’s happened to make sense of it.  (But a poem, of course, moves in more directions than just emotional—rational.)

I’m not sure, these days, who’s writing like this, or what the best medium for it is.  Certainly, as writers we’re called to explore, are we not?  Regardless of what has or has not been written, even regarding engaging and respecting it, we need to write into our own moments—words that subvert the triviality and complacency of a loveless society.

(c) 2009 The Writer's Block

When did we lose love?  I don’t know the Poetic Canon that well myself, but I think it was somewhere amid the postwar cynicism of the 20th century.  War, genocide, and materialism, it seemed, had subverted lyricism of the Romantics and the optimism of the Victorians.  One reason I appreciate WB is how evocatively it captures so many of the struggles and anger that arise out of our ‘loss of love.’

When, conversely, did we lose our sense of being the Beloved?  I think that, of all things, is the hardest but most wonderful of all lessons to learn and ideas to explore, in poems or out of them.  If we can realize not just that we can love ourselves, that we can love, but that we are loved, then we have the hope to look up.

You can read the whole conversation here. Please feel free to leave your thoughts both places.

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2 thoughts on “love and poetry

  1. Interesting post Mr. Pond. The choices we make whether to let it live or die… I’ve always had problems with that. Love poetry is tricky – for some strange reason I run straight to Petrarch and his unrequited love for Laura. She didn’t even know who he was. Or like the poems of Heine in the Dichterliebe – the angry frustration of having no choice – and then choosing to slap all the pain in a coffin so big it takes twelve giants to carry it out to sea. Choices in love – seem almost antithesis to the love poem in the romantic era sense. The crazy driving love of Goethe’s Werther for the unavailable Charlotte – yet she makes a very big choice about that love. Woody Allen says you can’t help where your heart goes – and a side of me says – yes you can – definitely not to your lover’s daughter. But the other side of me feels Petrarch’s pain at dreaming of his dearest Laura. Even after she dies. Where’s the choice?

  2. Thanks, as always, for your thoughts, Joivre. Love, in the sense the romanticism, is a strange and wonderful external force. You’re completely right about that. For Petrarch, too, once having begun to love, he could perhaps not understand how to stop. I think of Lewis’s A Grief Observed–there is, as Eric quoted at HH, ‘a love as strong as death.’

    But, sidestepping away from poetry for a minute, think about Casablanca. True love, true empathy, the discovery of The One–and yet the lovers choose to step away from how their love, because they realize that there are some things more important than how two people feel about each other.

    Where’s the choice? I don’t know in all cases, wouldn’t pretend to. But I do know that we choose, whether to love or not, whether to continue in love or not. If we could not make choices in love, then in some way we would be less human when in love.

    The poetry of love should ideally be as intense and varied as the personalities of the poets.

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