Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Love Poetry

"Love Poetry" is a hell of a thing for me to call a blog post. If my precious few readers are anything like me, the title alone should send them (you) into fits of saccharine induced nausea. Rest assured, then, dear reader, that this post will offer no actual love poems, nor a defense of much that passes for love poetry.

I don't much care for poetry at all, I hate to say. I think I simply don't understand it. A poem aims to distill some experience or some truth, or better still some experience of truth. But the poetry is in neither the experience nor the truth, but in the distillation. A poem, (if I have any idea what a poem is, a big "if" indeed) then starts with something grand and extracts its essence. I write essays, which bluntly put means I start with something small and just keep expanding it until that tiny kernel of a thought that started the whole mess has become an endless sea of words that hopefully some brave reader can navigate.

What I do is the opposite of poetry, and I like it a great deal more than poetry because it is what I do, what I understand.

When I was in college (the first time, when I flunked out in no small part because of my anxiety disorder, but also because I was immature and more than a little foolish) I used to pretend to write poetry. It was romantic, I suppose, in the most literal sense of the word. Romantic like my all black wardrobe and my relentless melancholy. Insufferably romantic. But, it was cool to write poetry. Especially the worst sort of free verse poetry, structured almost at random because God forbid a writer have any self-discipline.

But even then I didn't like love poems - with a few exceptions not worth mentioning here, because they only prove that a really good writer could even make the phone book interesting. I'm thinking of this because I just got off the phone with an old friend (who used to bravely suffer through my detestable poetry, having had the misfortune of attending a poetry class with me). We talked about, of all things, love poems.

Of course we talked about a good deal more than just love poems, mind you. But none of that was a surprise. We talked about our spouses and children. We talked about theology. We talked about environmental ethics. You know, generally the sort of things I'm inclined to talk about. But then somehow the conversation took a turn, and we started talking about love poetry. I'm not sure how it happened, and I suspect she isn't sure either. But the best conversations - like the best of almost anything - take you places you wouldn't dream of visiting if you had any say in the matter. So somehow, between God and potty training, we ended up talking about love poems, and why I don't like them.

Love is a tricky thing to try to understand, and a much trickier thing to write about. If you're honest, when discussing someone you love you’ll say a great many things that sound like insults, only you meant them as compliments. I'm forever rattling on to Sami about all the things she does that drive me crazy. She must think I'm complaining, and I'm afraid I don't often do much to change her impression. But when I talk about or write about something that she or Adam does that just drives me up a wall, I'm also talking about why I love them so much. That which makes me the craziest is that which I can live the least without. There's something endearing about bad habits. They remind me that my wife and my son - the two people on this earth that I adore above all others - are not who I wish them to be, and that is both a great blessing and no small miracle.

Too often love poetry takes the opposite track. Rather than loving someone furiously for being exactly who you wish they weren't, love poetry conjures up some beautiful image of someone who exists only in the mind of the poet. That isn't love. It's just idle fantasy. And fantasy is a dangerous thing in love. You can find out all too late that you loved not a person but simply an idea of a person, your vision of who you wished they were, only they're not.

If I'd have known exactly who Sami was when I met her, I may not have married her. If she'd have known who I was I have no doubt she'd have run screaming and never looked back. And if I'd have really known who Adam would become - and don't get me wrong, I think he's the most wonderful creature in God's creation - I suspect I wouldn't have been nearly so excited when Sami told me she was pregnant. But it turns out I love all those things I'd have said I would hate if I'd have known about them before I did (if that sentence makes any sense). And, to me, that's love.

Love isn't what you think you want when you're all alone, with only your dreams and fantasies to interact with. Love is the flawed and brilliant and beautiful and fallen creature in front of you. Love is a person as messed up as you are. And love is honestly saying you wouldn't change a thing, even though you know that the object of your love is far from perfect.

That kind of love, as best as I can tell, is hard to capture in a poem. Hard to capture in an essay, too. I'm looking back on these words thinking I haven't said a thing. And I haven't. Because love, like faith, is being able to look at the words you use to describe it and saying, On second thought, that isn't what I meant at all.


crystal said...

That sounds like a love poem to me :-)

I used to hate poetry because it seemed like the ultimate "hiding the ball" for of expression and I wanted things to be straightforward. Now I'm slowly learning to like it.

Here's a poem I just saw by Rilke ...

Love Song

How can I keep my soul in me, so that
it doesn't touch your soul? How can I raise
it high enough, past you, to other things?
I would like to shelter it, among remote
lost objects, in some dark and silent place
that doesn't resonate when your depths resound.
Yet everything that touches us, me and you,
takes us together like a violin's bow,
which draws one voice out of two seperate strings.
Upon what instrument are we two spanned?
And what musician holds us in his hand?
Oh sweetest song.

Anonymous said...

You are way too wordy!! My god, the stuff that your mind spews out! You must get off on your verbosity. Quiet your mind, sir, if you want peace!!!

Sandalstraps said...

Always nice to get anonymous fan mail!

Heather said...

Hmpf. Anyone who was really concerned about the waste of valuable words would have just said: "Shh." ;)

Chris, I've been hunting all over the place, but I still can't find the text of that Car Talk poem. Grr.

mrieder said...

HI Adam,

Very good post. I liked it.


PamBG said...

I understand what you said and I've not yet learned to love poetry even in middle age. I do say that with some shame, but one thing I'm learning as I get older is to accept who I am.

I think you're right. It's certainly the wonderful, horrible flaws in other people (and in me) that make us interesting and lovable. :-)

Anonymous said...

Sandalstraps, agin I apologize and ask for forgiveness please. Actually I enjoy your blogs. What an asshole I am!

Andrew said...

read ee cummings.