Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Loved-Up Top 10

Love makes poets of us all, but love poetry isn't all about hearts and flowers. Here's a selection of poetry for Valentines Day that provides ten very individual views of love's agony and delight.

This little poem packs a real punch. The line 'Now I can only smile' so subtly suggests physical loss, but love and memory triumph over it.

Hilarious and oddly moving. Hoagland is one of the best American poets currently working, if you ask me. There's a video of him reading the poem here. (NB The version of this poem that appeared in Hoagland's collection Unincorporated Persons of the Honda Dynasty has a variant and, to my mind, better ending. But I'll leave you to search that out yourselves).

3. 'The Shipwright's Love Song' by Jo Bell

A spine-tingling performance here from Jo Bell, the UK's Canal Laureate, and a beautiful extended metaphor for the thrill of new passion.

4. 'A Subaltern's Love Song' by John Betjeman

This ought to be doggerel, but Betjemen's handling of the rhyme and metre is so masterly, while at the same time apparently so uncontrived. As you can hear from the audience reaction on this great recording from The Poetry Archive, it's a real crowd-pleaser. I love the way the poem manages to combine breathless, boyish infatuation with hints of sexual frisson, for instance in that 'warm-handled racket [...] back in its press.'

5. 'Rubbish at Adultery' by Sophie Hannah

Maybe not such a great poem for Valentine's Day, but a reminder that, if you are going to cheat on your beloved, you might as well enjoy it. I've seen Sophie Hannah read this live - a real treat.

6. 'An Arab Love Song' by Francis Thompson

Swooning and exotic. A great suggestion for this list from Jennifer Farley.

7. 'The Garret' by Ezra Pound

Pound's work is infamously difficult and cerebral, but this poem is not a typical one. A defiant, plain-spoken little lyric that captures the 'us against the world' feeling of new love.

8. 'Epithalamion' by Dannie Abse

An epithalamion is a song or poem for a wedding, but the lovers in this poem make their own church and their own religion.

9. 'Sleeping Hermaphrodite' by John McCullough (scroll down to p. 11 of this sample of McCullough's first collection, The Frost Fairs)

This is so clever, sexy and seductive. McCullough's poem gives voice to a sexual outsider, empowering a figure who would otherwise be the object of a voyeuristic gaze. Could this poem be more perfect?

10. Lullaby by W. H. Auden

If Pound's lovers in 'The Garret' are defiant, Auden's couple are embattled by history and the morality of their times. And the fidelity of the lovers themselves is also in question. Nevertheless, love, like the lover's innocent sleep, provides some protection, some hope - if only temporarily.

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