Photo Gallery | Writing Poems
As Valentine's Day approaches, store aisles fill with shades of pink and red, heart-shaped chocolates and fuzzy gifts. But instead of letting the greeting cards do the work for you on this day of love, local poets and writers offer advice on how to best express your feelings in the most personal way — through writing.
"The message should be specific in talking about your love object, to talk about what it is, not just 'I have this undying love for you,'" said Arlene Distler, a journalist who writes about the arts for southern Vermont and regional publications. Distler is also co-founder of Write Action, a Brattleboro, Vt., based non-profit organization that supports writing and writers in the tri-state area.
"Be specific, what is it that you love about them? What interaction inspired you to understand that you love them?" Distler suggests.
In trying to make the season of love special for that significant other, local artists explain why they feel a personalized note can be exceptionally sweet in comparison to a text message, email or store-bought card.
"One of the best things about writing down loving thoughts about another person is that, like all writing, it can cause the writer to pause, and take the time to tell the truest version of what one wants to say," said Rolf Parker-Houghton, writing tutor and reporter at the Deerfield Valley News. Parker-Houghton is also one of the hosts for the Write Action Radio Hour on Brattleboro's Community radio station, WVEW 107.7.
"Sincerity is really hard to imitate, and sincere expression of love is, for most readers, more powerful than some creative, intelligent or witty phrasing. Only saying what you really feel is the heart of sincerity," said Parker-Houghton.
Generally, writers across the board agree that a personalized poem or letter is a sincere gift for a loved one, as long as it comes from the heart. For some like Jennifer Browdy, who teaches comparative literature and gender studies with an activist bent at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, Mass., writing is one of the greatest gifts because it is timeless.
"Taking the time to write to your beloved and express just what it is you love about them — that is just about the kindest, most generous thing you can do, especially since writing, unlike hugs and kisses, will be as fresh in a 100 or 1,000 years as it is today" said Browdy. "For example, although Rumi is long gone, his words live after him — as can our words, too!"
Browdy is also the founding director of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, the co-publisher of Green Fire Press, and blogs at Transition Times.
"My advice would be to try to stay away from clichés when writing about love. Be as specific as possible — if you are writing a love letter or Valentine's Day card, let your beloved know what exactly about him or her you find adorable and love-worthy," said Browdy.
If you find yourself stumped as to how to get your thoughts down on paper, Verandah Porche, a travelling poet who resides in Guilford, Vt., suggests simply looking out your window.
"You can always start with the weather, in Vermont we consider weather on all occasions," Porche said. "You can just provide a setting and bring the loved one into it."
Aside from imagery, Porche suggests an acrostic poem, which is a type of poetry where the first, last or other letters in a line spell out a particular word or phrase; in this case, it would be the name of the person receiving the poem. However, Porche said that words for each letter of the person's name can simply serve as the spine of the poem, something that "inspires a little story that portrays the loved one," as Porche put it.
For those that fancy their computers, Porche suggests writing an acrostic poem from wordsmith.org/anagram/advanced, which will provide the vocabulary for the person's name. Porche challenges individuals to try and write a poem from only the words that are offered through that search of the person's full name and she says you can make it as simple or as sophisticated as you'd like.
Another style of writing that Porche enjoys is called a cartwheel poem, which goes around in a circle. For instance, each line borrows from the previous line before. Porche provides an example, a cartwheel poem written by her and some of her past students called, "The Moods Your Mind Is In."
"You are like a town/When a concert is playing,/Like trumpet and saxophone./You're like the phone
Ringing out of the blue.
You are like blue Levis, blue
velvet, blue sky at twilight
before stars burn out....
You are out
Of the box like all of the appliances
Of my life, the stereo, the TV,
The microwave, the light switch,
The scanner, the current
That flows though my existence....
You are my existence
Like a poem, the melody of words
Remembered haunting my town."
As for Sydney Lea, poet laureate of Vermont from 2011 to 2015, sitting down with the intent of writing about a specific topic is not in his nature.
"I simply never set out to write a poem about love ... or about anything. It is in the writing itself that I discover what the poem wants to be," said Lea. "If I impose 'meaning' or 'theme' upon it before I set out, I can be sure the poem will be wooden. I will have lacked the element of self-surprise that gives the work its spark."
Lea has published 19 books, 12 of them poetry. He noted that recently he wrote a poem for his wife's 60th birthday that turned into a love poem, but he did not necessarily begin with that direction.
"Writing about love is no different from writing about anything: dig deep, deep inside to what is true in the essence of your feeling and let the words come," said Tom Ragle, author and former Marlboro College president for 23 years. Ragle also served as a teacher of English literature, with a focus on classical British and American poetry, and as an academic administrator in the United States, Austria and China before retiring in 1993.
As comforting as a box of chocolates can be for the individual with the exceptional sweet tooth, a heart-felt poem or letter may bring just as much, if not more, warmth to a significant other's heart on Valentine's Day.
Looking for more inspiration before you put pen to flower-scented paper? How about one of these love quotes to get your started?
• "Promise me you'll never forget me because if I thought you would, I'd never leave." — 'Winnie the Pooh,' A.A. Milne
• "There is no remedy for love but to love more." — Thoreau
• "Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own." — Robert A. Heinlein
• "You are my greatest adventure." — Mr. Incredible from Disney's "The Incredibles"