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March 10, 2014 10:56 AM   Subscribe

What are your favorite relatively realistic love poems? Modern poets especially appreciated.

I went looking for this question in the archives and no one had really asked it. Links are appreciated. I've read Neruda and Emily Dickinson and lots of Rumi.

Yay: modern, schmoop/sappiness, sexytimes, realistic expectations, poly-friendly, female authors

Boo: Sentiments like "You're the only person I could ever love," objectification

posted by woodvine to Media & Arts (26 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Pathways by Rainer Maria Rilke?

not super modern - but realistic in the "being alone together" introvert sense
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 11:03 AM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Doesn't fit all of your requirements, but I do find it easy to get lost in Tyler Knott Gregson's work.
posted by cecic at 11:07 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not modern, but Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 is not merely a "relatively realistic love poem", but an active smackdown of unrealistic love poems:
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
posted by Flunkie at 11:09 AM on March 10, 2014 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Props for your title. :)

That said, you must read "I Love You Sweatheart" by Thomas Lux. Also "You Can't Get the Facts Until You Get the Fiction," by Richard Jackson.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:13 AM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Bob Hicok - A wedding night

A wedding night

A groom goes out with a pillow to where the sheep
are white bushes across the hill. Dirty white

bushes across the hill and places his pillow
at the top, just before the top, a few inches

from the top for his head so he can see, almost, yes,
he can see the curve of the earth, out

where there is only water. But there is a ship
on the only water, on the curve of water

to his left and right, as the dirty white bushes
move, as the ship moves to the east

along the curve, and he thinks of how his pillow
will smell in his bed, beside his bride,

of grass and seasalt and the curve of the earth
and coming home, she will breathe all of these

when she leans over him, drapes his face
with the night of her hair, the curve of her

falling to all sides, from a center, from a moon,
from an asking, from a giving, from now on.

Copyright © 2008 Bob Hicok All rights reserved
from Iron Horse Literary Review
posted by GrapeApiary at 11:13 AM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Heh. I was just looking up some Bob Hicok, he's a go-to guy. Try this.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:15 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

A few that I enjoy:

Sharon Olds, Last Night

Billy Collins, Litany

Galway Kinnell, After Making Love We Hear Footsteps

Can't find a link, but I love this haiku by Sonia Sanchez:

c'mon man hold me
touch me before time love me
from behind your eyes

posted by JuliaJellicoe at 11:30 AM on March 10, 2014

Carol Ann Duffy

I like pouring your tea, lifting
the heavy pot, and tipping it up,
so the fragrant liquid streams in your china cup.

Or when you’re away, or at work,
I like to think of your cupped hands as you sip,
as you sip, of the faint half-smile of your lips.

I like the questions – sugar? – milk? –
and the answers I don’t know by heart, yet,
for I see your soul in your eyes, and I forget.

Jasmine, Gunpowder, Assam, Earl Grey, Ceylon,
I love tea’s names. Which tea would you like? I say
but it’s any tea for you, please, any time of day,

as the women harvest the slopes
for the sweetest leaves, on Mount Wu-Yi,
and I am your lover, smitten, straining your tea.

(from Rapture, Picador, 2005)
posted by hannala at 11:42 AM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Privacy by Olga Broumas.
posted by vrakatar at 11:55 AM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Orange by Wendy Cope.
posted by gauche at 12:12 PM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Road in the Clouds by Charles Simic.

Also, The Poetry Foundation has a pretty robust search/browse that you can filter by theme.
posted by verysleeping at 12:17 PM on March 10, 2014

O'Hara's Having A Coke With You

Having a Coke with You
Frank O’Hara

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz,
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier
St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything
as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front
of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them

I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in
the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s
in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together
the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care
of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that
used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when
the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider
as carefully
as the horse

it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you
about it
posted by PinkMoose at 12:49 PM on March 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Found here, and seconding the Poetry Foundation site.

The Fire Cycle
By Zachary Schomburg

There are trees and they are on fire. There are hummingbirds and they are on fire. There are graves and they are on fire and the things coming out of the graves are on fire. The house you grew up in is on fire. There is a gigantic trebuchet on fire on the edge of a crater and the crater is on fire. There is a complex system of tunnels deep underneath the surface with only one entrance and one exit and the entire system is filled with fire. There is a wooden cage we’re trapped in, too large to see, and it is on fire. There are jaguars on fire. Wolves. Spiders. Wolf-spiders on fire. If there were people. If our fathers were alive. If we had a daughter. Fire to the edges. Fire in the river beds. Fire between the mattresses of the bed you were born in. Fire in your mother’s belly. There is a little boy wearing a fire shirt holding a baby lamb. There is a little girl in a fire skirt asking if she can ride the baby lamb like a horse. There is you on top of me with thighs of fire while a hot red fog hovers in your hair. There is me on top of you wearing a fire shirt and then pulling the fire shirt over my head and tossing it like a fireball through the fog at a new kind of dinosaur. There are meteorites disintegrating in the atmosphere just a few thousand feet above us and tiny fireballs are falling down around us, pooling around us, forming a kind of fire lake which then forms a kind of fire cloud. There is this feeling I get when I am with you. There is our future house burning like a star on the hill. There is our dark flickering shadow. There is my hand on fire in your hand on fire, my body on fire above your body on fire, our tongues made of ash. We are rocks on a distant and uninhabitable planet. We have our whole life ahead of us.
posted by degoao at 1:19 PM on March 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I really like Margaret Atwood's poetry, with the caveat that some of her stuff might lean more towards realistic expectations (and maybe mild creepiness?) than towards romance. Some of the more schmoopy/sexy ones:
Variations on the Word Sleep
Variations on the Word Love
More and More
posted by twoporedomain at 1:26 PM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Love In Place

I really don't remember falling in love all that much
I remember wanting to bake corn bread and boil a ham and I certainly remember making lemon pie and when I used to smoke I stopped in the middle of my day to contemplate

I know I must have fallen in love once because I quit biting
My cuticles and my hair is gray and that must indicate
Something and I all of a sudden had a deeper appreciation
For Billie Holiday and Billy Strayhorn so if it wasn't for love I don't know what it was

I see the old photographs and I am smiling and I'm sure quite happy but what I mostly see is me
Through your eyes
And I am still you and slim and very much committed to the
Love we still have

Nikki Giovanni
posted by ubiquity at 2:26 PM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: No es nada de tu cuerpo by Jaime Sabines. I don't like any of the translations out there, so I did this one myself. As follows in Spanish, then English.
Note 1: If you like this poem, you may be interested in this video of Sabines reciting it.
Note 2: Also good are Espero curarme de ti and los amorosos.


No es nada de tu cuerpo
ni tu piel, ni tus ojos, ni tu vientre,
ni ese lugar secreto que los dos conocemos,
fosa de nuestra muerte, final de nuestro entierro.
No es tu boca -tu boca
que es igual que tu sexo-,
ni la reunión exacta de tus pechos,
ni tu espalda dulcísima y suave,
ni tu ombligo en que bebo.
Ni son tus muslos duros como el día,
ni tus rodillas de marfil al fuego,
ni tus pies diminutos y sangrantes,
ni tu olor, ni tu pelo.
No es tu mirada -¿qué es una mirada?-
triste luz descarriada, paz sin dueño,
ni el álbum de tu oído, ni tus voces,
ni las ojeras que te deja el sueño.
Ni es tu lengua de víbora tampoco,
flecha de avispas en el aire ciego,
ni la humedad caliente de tu asfixia
que sostiene tu beso.
No es nada de tu cuerpo,
ni una brizna, ni un pétalo,
ni una gota, ni un grano, ni un momento.
Es sólo este lugar donde estuviste,
estos mis brazos tercos.


It is nothing of your body
not your skin, nor your eyes, nor your belly,
nor that secret place that we both know,
pit of our death, gravesite of our burial.
It is not your mouth – your mouth
that is the same as your sex-,
nor the exact meeting of your breasts,
nor your soft and sweetest back,
nor your bellybutton from which I drink.
Nor is it your muscles hard as day,
nor your knees of burnt ivory,
nor your tiny bleeding feet,
nor your smell, nor your skin.
It is not your look – what is a look? –
sad lost light, peace without guidance,
nor your eardrum, nor your voices,
nor the bags under your eyes left by sleep.
Nor is it your viper’s tongue either,
wasp’s arrow in the blind air,
nor the hot moisture of your asphyxiation
that maintains your kiss.
It is nothing of your body,
not a blade, nor a petal,
nor a drop, nor a grain, nor a moment.
It is only this place where you were.
these, my empty arms.
posted by Acaecia at 3:06 PM on March 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Long ago I used to have a book of collected Surrealist Poetry, now long gone. I recall that Robert Desnos had a brief selection of love poems which were quite elegant and voluptuous. Apologies for not being more specific.
posted by ovvl at 4:38 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Resignation by Nikki Giovanni

I love you
because the Earth turns around the sun
because the North wind blows north
because the Pope is Catholic
and most Rabbis Jewish
because winters flow into springs
and the air clears after a storm
because only my love for you
despite the charms or gravity
keeps me from falling off this Earth
into another dimension

I love you
because it is the natural order of things

I love you
like the habit I picked up in college
of sleeping through lectures
or saying I’m sorry
when I get stopped for speeding
because I drink a glass of water
in the morning
and chain-smoke cigarettes
all through the day
because I take my coffee Black
and my milk with chocolate
because you keep my feet warm
though my life a mess
I love you
because I don’t want it
any other way

I am helpless
in my love for you

It makes me so happy
to hear you call my name
I am amazed you can resist
locking me in an echo chamber
where your voice reverberates
through the four walls
sending me into spasmatic ecstasy
I love you
because it’s been so good
for so long
that if I didn’t love you
I’d have to be born again
and that is not a theological statement
I am pitiful in my love for you

The Dells tell me Love
is so simple
the thought though of you
sends indescribably delicious multitudinous
thrills throughout and through-in my body
I love you
because no two snow flakes are alike
and it is possible
if you stand tippy-toe
to walk between the raindrops
I love you
because I am afraid of the dark
and can’t sleep in the light
because I rub my eyes
when I wake up in the morning
and find you there
because you with all your magic powers were
determined that
I should love you
because there was nothing for you but that
I would love you

I love you
because you made me
want to love you
more than I love my privacy
my freedom my commitments
and responsibilities
I love you ‘cause I changed my life
to love you
because you saw me one Friday
afternoon and decided that I would
love you
I love you I love you I love you
posted by fancyoats at 6:14 PM on March 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Love Poem, John Frederick Nims

My clumsiest dear, whose hands shipwreck vases,
At whose quick touch all glasses chip and ring,
Whose palms are bulls in china, burs in linen,
And have no cunning with any soft thing

Except all ill-at-ease fidgeting people:
The refugee uncertain at the door
You make at home; deftly you steady
The drunk clambering on his undulant floor.

Unpredictable dear, the taxi drivers’ terror,
Shrinking from far headlights pale as a dime
Yet leaping before apopleptic streetcars—
Misfit in any space. And never on time.

A wrench in clocks and the solar system. Only
With words and people and love you move at ease;
In traffic of wit expertly maneuver
And keep us, all devotion, at your knees.

Forgetting your coffee spreading on our flannel,
Your lipstick grinning on our coat,
So gaily in love’s unbreakable heaven
Our souls on glory of spilt bourbon float.

Be with me, darling, early and late. Smash glasses—
I will study wry music for your sake.
For should your hands drop white and empty
All the toys of the world would break.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:28 AM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: September afternoon at four o’clock by Marge Piercy

Full in the hand, heavy
with ripeness, perfume spreading
its fan: moments now resemble
sweet russet pear glowing
on the bough, peaches warm
from the afternoon sun, amber
and juicy, flesh that can
make you drunk.

There is a turn in things
that makes the heart catch.
We are ripening, all the hard
green grasping, the stony will
swelling to sweetness, the acid
and sugar in balance, the sun
stored as energy that is pleasure
and pleasure that is energy.

Whatever happens, whatever,
we say, and hold hard and let
go and go on. In the perfect
moment the future coils,
a tree inside a pit. Take,
eat, we are each other’s
perfection, the wine of our
mouths is sweet and heavy.
Soon enough comes the vinegar.
The fruit is ripe for the taking
and we take. There is
no other wisdom
posted by neutralmojo at 10:31 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just realized there's a typo in the version of "I Love You Sweatheart" that I posted--the word in line 18 should literally be "Sweatheart." :)
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:12 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

"poly-friendly" makes me think of To Have Without Holding by Marge Piercy (I don't love all of that poem, but it has some really excellent phrases).

I second Margaret Atwood--more love-related poems of hers that I like include There is Only One of Everything and Habitation.

Beautiful by Richard Brautigan makes me smile.
posted by Vibrissa at 8:17 AM on March 12, 2014

Two of my favorites:
from an anonymous 14th(?) century poet:
Tu es fraiche et tender chose,
plus blanche que n'est rose,
plus claire que cristal,
que neige qui tombe sur glace.

(doesn't translate well, but - you are a new and tender thing, whiter than any rose, clearer than crystal, than snow that falls on ice.)

and from a 16th century song:
O western wind when wilt thou blow,
that the small rain down might rain;
Christ, that my love were in my arms,
and I in my bed again.
posted by mmiddle at 11:32 AM on March 12, 2014

Poem: "For You" by Kim Addonizio, from Lucifer at the Starlight. © W.W. Norton and Co., 2009

For you I undress down to the sheaths of my nerves.
I remove my jewelry and set it on the nightstand,
I unhook my ribs, spread my lungs flat on a chair.
I dissolve like a remedy in water, in wine.
I spill without staining, and leave without stirring the air.
I do it for love. For love, I disappear
posted by mmiddle at 11:35 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Might be too much toward the comical, but I've always found this touching: I Rely On You, by the late Hovis Presley. Best read in a Lancashire accent.
posted by danteGideon at 4:45 PM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
and leave the yellow bark dust
on your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
you could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbor to your hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler’s wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
— your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers…

When we swam once
I touched you in water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
You climbed the bank and said

this is how you touch other women the grasscutter’s wife, the lime burner’s daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume.
and knew what good is it to be the lime burner’s daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in an act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
peeler’s wife. Smell me.

-michael ondaatje, “the cinnamon peeler”
posted by WidgetAlley at 12:57 AM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

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