February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day Poems

Valentine's Day puts pressure on poets.

If you write poems, it is expected that you can and will write love poems. Poets know that's not always the case.

I went last week to a poetry and wine tasting event as a prelude to V Day. The two featured poets, Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Laura Boss, read a variety of love poems. Variety because both emphasized that love poems and Valentines could be to husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, lovers, children, mothers and fathers.

I read one poem. I had selected three possibilities:  a love poem to Poetry, one about my wife (who was in the audience) and one from and to my father. I went with that last one. (see bottom of post). It's not my favorite or one of my best poems, but it's one I like and had never read to an audience. It's a bit sentimental and that's allowed on Valentine's Day.

Back in 1986, Ted Kooser (U.S. Poet Laureate 2004–2006) sent a Valentine's Day poem on a postcard to 50 women. Over the next three decades, he sent his annual poem to an increasing number of women (in 2007 there were 2,600 recipients). He collected those poems and added one dedicated to his wife. (Sending out Valentine's poems to women that are not your wife could be dangerous.)

There are some simple pen and ink drawings (by Robert Hanna) included in the collection which is simply titled Valentines. Not every poem is a "love poem" or a traditional greeting card Valentine sentiment - but poets will recognize why each could be a poem for that occasion.

This is the first of the Kooser poems.

Pocket Poem

If this comes creased and creased again and soiled
as if I’d opened it a thousand times
to see if what I’d written here was right,
it’s all because I looked too long for you
to put in your pocket. Midnight says
the little gifts of loneliness come wrapped
by nervous fingers. What I wanted this
to say was that I want to be so close
that when you find it, it is warm from me.

(from Ted Kooser's collection of poems Valentines)

Here's the poem I read that night.

Love Letters

My father hid his love letters in the ceiling.
Not a man of words,
a man who found it hard to sit
and easier to be working.
The patio built stone by stone;
a barbecue pit of bricks
salvaged from a factory razed in 1960 -
those were his stories.
And the '49 Mercury that aged as he restored it -
his first new car, four years from war, his first good job -
and a two year old daughter.
Maybe this draftsman, who planned on paper
with precision lines, measured angles,
shadings that made a two-point perspective seem real,
maybe he was trying to hold time when
in the home they bought when I was born,
he hid his love letters in the new ceiling,
and under the refinished oak floor,
inside staircase balustrades he stripped, smoothed and stained
in the roots of the peach trees
and the tomato plants,
and in pipes he replaced.
He hid them so well,
that it took me all these years
to know where to find them.

Ken Ronkowitz



Valentines by Ted Kooser
Arms: New and Selected Poems by Laura Boss
Where I Come From - by Maria Gillan
All That Lies Between Us - by Maria Gillan

1 comment:

  1. Your poem was beautiful. There is so much a man writes about his love that is not always in the words. Mixed feelings about this day. Thankfully I have friends like you who write wonderful poems to remind me that what I feel is ok.

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