Digging into a sexy love poem to get a handle on active, imagic, metaphor-rich writing.

My favorite job title is Poet. Why? No license, no union, no credentialism. If you can learn, you will. If you can't, you won't waste my time. I grow regardless.

My favorite job title is Poet. Why? No license, no union, no credentialism. If you can learn, you will. If you can’t, you won’t waste my time. I grow regardless.

Forgive me my vanity, but I want to dig into the idea of writing-as-thinking, using my own writing as an example. This is a love poem I wrote nearly two decades ago, for The Unfallen:

let’s make love like velcro baby
it’s the best thing we can do
you stick to me like strapping tape
i’ll stick to you like glue

i’ll cast my anchor in your harbor baby
thrust my shovel in your earth
cling by claws to your cavern walls
take me test my worth

        love’s just a hint baby
        love’s just a scent
        just a sniggling squiggling clue
        could it be me
        could it be me baby
        could you be in there too

let’s make love like velcro baby
let’s do it ’til we die
grab me grasp me clutch me clasp me
hook me with your eyes

This is fun, first, simply because it’s such a goofy idea. The word play itself is fun, but, even before that, it’s fun because it’s such a clumsy, clinical premise for a love poem, the polar opposite of the sunsets and silences and solitudes of the sonnets: Let’s make love like velcro, baby.

The poem is built from very simple stuff. English words, not stuffy Latinate polysyllables. Active verbs, along with nouns and adjectives rich in imagic particularity. This is what Conrad was talking about, writing to the senses, writing actions and events that feel to the reader like actual experience. This again contrasts with the more expected form of a love poem, which usually will be about impressions and emotions, abstract ideas expressed in passive or even prostrate forms.

And yet every one of these activities is a metaphor for love, with each metaphor building on the last to become steadily more intimate, graphic and ultimately clinical again — all in a way that would glide right past your kids if they were to sneak out of bed and peek over your shoulder. (Watch the verbs: Glide, sneak, peek — active, particular, imagic.)

Like this:

  • Let us commit to each other
  • Let us embrace — feverishly
  • Let us marry — in pioneer metaphors
  • Let us copulate — savagely
  • Let us fertilize your egg

Could it be me — penetrating that egg? Could it be you — there with me within that egg? The conjugal act leading to fertilization can be expressed poetically as making the love that makes someone new to love. In this way, the poem unites the four loves of the Greeks — philia, agape, eros and storge — all in one love. This is integrity — everything is all one thing.

Finally, at the end, we invert the sex roles: She penetrates him with her eyes. We’re harkening back to the surface idea of velcro, but we’re also talking about the integrity — the oneness — of matrimony.

This is nothing, just a fun little poem that took me all of ten minutes to write. I’d love to tell you that I thought out all these abstract ideas in advance, but the thing came as gift from Thalia, the subconscious integration of notions I carry with me all the time.

The point is to think in active, expressive verbs, and particular — granular — nouns and adjectives, using images and metaphors to connect ideas. To write not as discourse but as exposition — the creation of that fascinating dream-like state of hyper-reality in the reader’s mind. It is so easy to drift into the hazy world of adverbial passivity, that formless space without subjects, without objects, without actors or events. This is not reality. The object of good writing is to create a reality so real as to be undeniable — the reality of sight and sense, but also the reality where sensations translate to and inform metaphors, and where metaphors persuade not because they are palpably true — not because they are palatably true — not even jarringly or shockingly or startlingly true — but because they course through the veins and nerves and solar plexus like the thrill of free fall on a roller coaster.

Cultures die, and minds die, when they switch from the present active indicative — I am doing this — to the present passive participle — this is being done by me. It is nothing from there to lose the actor and even the precision of time: The having-been-doneness of this eventuated. This is the way schoolteachers and attorneys and legislators write. This is the way criminals think. This is how crime is rationalized. (See! An action without an actor!) But that kind — this kind! — of lissome passivity is the death of good writing. (“Attention must be paid!”)

What can you do? Flog the criminals. Storm the legislature. Tar and feather the attorneys. Entreat the schoolteachers to find work they can do. (“You want fries with that?”) And mind what goes into — and comes out of — your mind…

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