“Language was invented for one reason,” said Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, “To woo women.”
So what better occasion than Valentine's Day to write something for your special someone? Now, it is important to remember every day is a good day to show that person appreciation. Don't wait until Valentine's Day, but don't forget it either.
(To keep things simple, for the purpose of this article I will refer to the object of your poem as “she” or “her”, but you know who you're thinking of.)
Keep in mind all the things required of any good poem: diction, sound and rhythm.
Choose strong verbs and nouns. Don't rely heavily on adjectives. We all know what “sweet” means. Illustrate how your sweetie is sweet, what effect she has on you and what details are decadent. Pick words with rich meanings that reinforce the emotion of your writing. Note how “cupcake” makes you think of parties, frosting and something you can cradle in your palm, while “tart” is a dessert but also a synonym for “tramp”.
Pick words that sound good together and add to your feeling. Make your language similar to butterscotch and caramel. Drizzle it across your page. Excessive K sounds, for example, will clatter, clash and clang like a kangaroo crushing a cockatoo. This isn't the romantic music you're looking for. V, L and R are more mellifluous. Vivacious vixens, lovely larks and red roses will serve you better. Your sound palate is up to you, just don't over-do it. Alliteration should contribute to your poem, not dominate it.
Your rhythm should be energetic yet gentle. Try to sound more like the breeze over a meadow than a marching band. Scan where the stresses fall in your poem. Aim for a basic iambic flow with some variation. Imagine yourself dancing with her and attempt to recreate that music.
Know Your Target
I always recommend free-writing. In this case, write out the details that make her special. Use all your senses. List things she likes and dislikes. Note things you have in common, especially times you've spent together.
Fill up a page or two with all the things that come to mind when you think of her. Nothing is wrong here. Don't erase or scratch things out. Disengage your filters. Also, gather anything you've written to her or about her previously.
Keep in mind the length and depth of your relationship. Are you hoping to land a first date? Don't get too heavy or intense. You might spook her. Remember that pointing out her beauty does not truly give her reasons to date you. Show yourself as intuitive, sensitive, fun, artful and creative while declaring your interest. Then she should understand why you're special.
Have you and her been together for a while? You can be more personal. Write about a specific moment together, how you met or a dream for the future. Detail how you've grown throughout your relationship. Prove that she's still the one for you.
Gauge her appetite and interest for poetry. Don't write an epic for someone who'll be bored by it. Perhaps a few great lines will do. If you share a writing class together, then you may attempt something grand. If she has no taste for poetry whatsoever, perhaps you're barking up the wrong tree.
For a love poem, sometimes I write differently. Normally, I'm not much into rhyme. But for this application it might work better. You're looking to make music here. If you can avoid sounding too “roses are red, violets are blue” than you might use a rhyme scheme. Just don't let rhyme force you into bad word choices. Don't end every rhymed line with end punctuation, either. You can wrap the voice of the line around to the next line and place a period in the middle. This will keep you from a sing-song rhythm.
I'll use repetition more in a love poem. For my wife, I've written some pieces that repeat the idea: “My love, she is…” Might sound cheesy for another use, but for the one I love, a list of ways I love her suits perfectly. If you have a word or phrase that works well, build the poem around it.
The haiku is always great for small nibbles of poetry. Perfect for easing a non-poetry fan over to our side. You can hide haiku in various places and make a game of it.
The old-school sonnet is still a strong frame for a love poem. Long enough to tell a story but short enough to read in a minute. Use the rhyme to build your song. Build her up through the proposition. Wow her with the volta. Make her palpitate with your resolution.
If you're feeling ambitious, craft a villanelle, a classic nineteen line poem with two repeated lines. A villanelle consists of five tercets and a final quatrain. Lines one and three are repeated alternately at the end of each tercet and together at the end of the quatrain. If you have two great lines which can be interpreted multiple ways, give this one a shot.
Or try your own thing. Use free verse if you just need to get your feelings out. Make up your own rhyme scheme. Use your own structure of repetition. Do what feels right. If she doesn't like your poem, she might not like you. Save yourself the trouble.
How you use this poem may be as important as what you write. Will you read it aloud or pass her a note? Will you put it on plain paper or dress it ornately? Will you present it privately or proudly broadcast your emotion? This is up to you. Be bold but again, don't over-do it. Know your target.
I believe good writing should step off the page by itself without fancy fonts or the writer there to read it. In this case, I'll make an exception. Take this opportunity to highlight your other skills. If you can draw, paint, play music or build with your hands, showcase that here. Frame your work. Make the page beautiful. Create a song.
Surprise her and be yourself. Be amazing and good luck.
by Marvin Bell
You are not beautiful, exactly.
You are beautiful, inexactly.
You let a weed grow by the mulberry
and a mulberry grow by the house.
So close, in the personal quiet
of a windy night, it brushes the wall
and sweeps away the day till we sleep.
A child said it, and it seemed true:
"Things that are lost are all equal."
But it isn't true. If I lost you,
the air wouldn't move, nor the tree grow.
Someone would pull the weed, my flower.
The quiet wouldn't be yours. If I lost you,
I'd have to ask the grass to let me sleep.
written for our wedding
by Eighty Six
Many of you know what it is, struggle
To explain, but could not survive without.
It happened to me in spring, by the water.
Figured we'd stroll to the park, feel some sun,
Watch sunbolts dart through impatient weather
Crowded, stuck in line over Puget Sound.
I respond: "Doesn't look like rain." My nose
At your earlobe. You've been climbing with plums
Or zesting lemons. Hits me in the brain
Every time. The clouds pile up like wet socks
And damp blankets. You say they're more like sheep
Playing in the wind. The bay grows shark teeth
Or wolves' fangs. The flock spooks, panics, gallops
Over the Olympics toward Mount Rainier.
Pillows become washrags and frog-sized drops
Start flying in sideways. Running for shade,
Dodging flash-puddles, sunglasses clouded
Under an awning, breath short, kisses warm
Like home. Wiping rain from cool cheeks. Never
Let you go. Never want to see you cry.
- Photo by sunshinecity under CC BY 2.0 via Flickr
- Poetry by Marvin Bell and Eighty Six
- Photo by daveparker under CC BY 2.0 via Flickr