friday feast: a writer’s valentine

“I have always been more afraid of a pen, a bottle of ink, and a sheet of paper than of a sword or pistol.” ~ from The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

photo by Catherine Forbes

So, I’m sitting here polishing off a piece of Mary Todd Lincoln’s famous courting cake — such a delicate flavor with sweet notes of vanilla and almond, delivered in a luscious, moist crumb — and I’m thinking about love poems for Valentine’s Day.

Like Tricia of the Miss Rumphius Effect, I’m not one for overly sentimental, ooey gooey, gushy, cliched pronouncements of love. But, like Karen Edmisten, I always find E.E. Cummings’ love poems sublime — they’re passionate, lyrical, sensual, and convey grand emotion without melodrama or sentimentality.

Then I was thinking, are there any poems that speak to my relationship with Len? As in, could I see him reading any particular poem to me?

*rolling on the floor laughing*

Well, he considers Shakespeare too highbrow, Elizabeth Barrett Browning too flowery, and E.E. Cummings out of his mind. No, I did not marry the type of man who likes to recite poems. “Why don’t these guys just get to the point?” is what he usually says.

But I’ve absolutely no complaints, because though he never really cared much for poetry, he’s always respected my love for it. And though, after 30+ years together, he’s never really understood my compulsion to write about everything under the sun, he has whole heartedly supported all my efforts to do so. Without question. Without ever faltering in his commitment to allow me to fully be myself and express myself.

When I ran across the following poem by James Tate, I knew I had come pretty close to finding a “love poem” that speaks not of longing and flower laden escapades, but of having found someone who truly knows you. Deep down, that’s all anyone really wants, isn’t it? I like the husband’s point of view in the poem; it reminds me of the father looking in on his daughter, in “The Writer,” by Richard Wilbur.

Only another writer could truly understand the tremendous risk taking, the dangers, the fragile ego, the courage it takes to face the blank page on a daily basis. But the narrator in the poem and Len share the same vantage point, and maybe, some of the same sentiments. I couldn’t ask for more.

by James Tate

photo by Noellalynn

The woman I love is typing in a nearby room.
Clippity clippity clippity clippity, then silence.
She’s thinking, like a jaguar, or a dagger.
Words but more than words. Currents, hairpin
turns. It’s scary but exciting. It’s like dancing
on a precipice or sleeping under a waterfall.
She doesn’t know the way home but she’s running
and leaping over chasms in the earth, and she’s singing too,
in a foreign language she’s never heard spoken.
But the melody is one I’ve known all my life.
As a child I hummed it when I dreamed of her,
when I calculated the thousands of accidents it would take
to find her. And now her several rivers
are tossing up ancient maps with military strategies
traced in nearly invisible ink. She’s typing, typing
in hot pursuit, a delirium possesses her,
she falls, gets up, shakes herself. A reverie
chases her through a forest, clippity clippity.
Then silence. Perhaps aphasia, or dysphasia.
She’s a blind mystic who hasn’t spoken in seven years.
She’s walking backwards across a jumbo desert.
This is one of her more difficult passages.
A very obscure god peeks at her from the corner of a mirage.
And I think, that’s my baby, come on baby,
you’re in the homestretch now. But she won’t
come home. She’s hang gliding over a volcano
and has no use for the old ritual of “dinner.”

~ from The Book of Love, edited by Diane Ackerman and Jeanne Mackin (W.W. Norton & Company, 1998).

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at Big A little a.

But before you go, please take this:

photo by Bakerella

You are a good person, and I like you.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

23 thoughts on “friday feast: a writer’s valentine

  1. Oh, my lord, I love this poem. It’s so tender in the most non-icky way. Yes, yes, I agree, Jama—to be known and loved is the best love of all. (That’s why I dedicated my book to “Mike, who knows my name.” )

    Thank you so much for posting this treat. I’m going to go read it again right now and smile for the rest of the day.


  2. “but of having found someone who truly knows you. Deep down, that’s all anyone really wants, isn’t it?” Yes, isn’t it? Perfect.

    And, I *love* this poem! Thank you for it today!


  3. Oh, Jama, what a beautiful post. My mate is not the gushy type either, but like yours takes me as I am and what more do we really want? When we were dating, I knew it would work when he let me be off writing in a corner as long as I needed.

    I love to think of you “hang gliding over a volcano.” What a great poem. And cupcakes, too!

    I think I’ll go the shortbread rollout hearts route today, a few red sprinkles…


  4. The ending can certainly be taken two ways — humorous, or maybe the narrator has the feeling he’ll never be able to connect with her, or match up to all the “adventures” the writer embarks upon.


  5. Tanita Says 🙂

    Oh, this is… I like the obscure god, and I *really* want to hang glide.

    Dinner be darned. I’m having cupcakes.

    This is lovely, lovely.

    You’re a good person, and I really like you too.


  6. So, I’m sitting here polishing off a piece of Mary Todd Lincoln’s famous courting cake

    A local historical society/museum had an event honoring Lincoln (including impersonator) yesterday – they made a point of mentioning that they served almond cake. 😀


  7. So great. Love this post. And no way my hubby would ever read a poem to me, although he once said something vaguely poetic all on his own. I actually saw a really sweet Valentine’s Day card with some Shakespeare on it and nearly swooned, wishing I’d receive something like that – although there’s no way, of course, that I will. Nor would my husband actually appreciate it – in fact, he’d probably greet it with scorn.


  8. Love your pink cupcake!

    Scorn? Shakespeare? Sigh.

    Last night I thought I’d test the waters again and asked Len if he liked poetry.
    His answer: “Not particularly.”

    Maybe this post is really about how well I know “him,” rather than the other way around :D!


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