Paper Hearts: 7 Secrets to a Love Poem That Unfolds Beauty
on February 5th, 2019
In contemplative silence
Notes bending in your mind as you
Begin to fold the colors of life
onto the blank pages set before you
Your hand shakes as you feel
The paper heart awaken
A deep drumming turning to form
Soon you allow your silence to shift into structure
Each angle unmasking
the complexity of your origami heart
And, as you breathe life into shape,
The scribbles on your page
The bow of your heartstrings
Call to me
And I begin to fold into you all over again
How does it feel to receive a love poem? Maybe you didn’t expect to get one today, but that is one of the best things about poetry and love: both can show up when and where you least expect them. The two of them serve as a dynamic duo, because poetry is a way that we can reveal the truth of what love does to us. Through poetry, we are able to share our hearts, express our emotions, and stir wonder in those around us. Through a poem, we are able to preserve our emotions, memories, and experiences regarding love.
However, many would-be poets struggle to know where to begin, ultimately hindering them from projecting love and beauty onto the world. If this is you, if you have an itch to share your experience of love, if there is a spark igniting inside of you to express this emotion, here are seven tips to write a love poem that stops people in their tracks.
1. Know Your Medium
If you are finding yourself in new territory, one of the best ways to wade into the deep sea of poetry is to get familiar with what it looks like. Find yourself some good examples of poetry, read them, and sit with any impressions these poems stir up for you. Getting comfortable with what poetry can look like will help you to feel more confident as you sift through uncharted waters. It can also be a beautiful place to get inspired.
2. Find Your Muse
Take time to meditate on the many things, people, and experiences you love. When I lean into a poem, especially a love poem, I often come from a place of gratitude. I begin to consider the things that bring me joy and emotional abundance, and have, at least at one point in my life, enhanced my life.
Once you have thought about your specific loves, begin to narrow down your subject by asking yourself some questions. Who or what stirs something within you, ignites a fire in your veins, presents you with an emotional response that needs to be unleashed?
Don’t feel weighed down by the traditional form and understanding of what a love poem is. It is okay to think outside of the box. If your cat Rupert, your trip to Iceland, your favorite pair of leggings causes a heart-stopping reaction, great! Play with your own feelings about love. Engage with love, lean into it. Don’t feel like you have to talk about a significant other just because that’s what you think a love poem is supposed to do. Your heart and your readers will thank you.
3. Now, Curl Up Next to It
This step may seem simple, but it is critical when writing a love poem (or anything, really!). Once you have discovered your subject matter, take some time to think about and write down all of the feelings that come up surrounding this person, place, thing, or experience. I love to do a brain dump on a blank page so that I can see what words or images continue to emerge. I will underline, bold, or color-code memories, images, colors, or senses that continue to reveal themselves as I reflect on my muse. However, you may find more inspiration or success from the use of a list or journal entry about your subject. There is no “right” way to unleash these ideas. Just pick something that works for you!
Don’t be surprised if the emotions connected to this person or idea are not all candy hearts and roses. Write down the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful. What emotions tug the most deeply when you consider your subject? What do you feel in your bones when you approach the topic of who or what you love? What makes your relationship with the subject unique, raw, visceral? What I am asking you to do here, to consider here, is how you can explore and express the true intimacy of your relationship with the subject. These kinds of relationships have dimension, depth, and baggage. Allow the tension around the subject of your poem to arise, sit with it, curl up next to it, get to know it a little bit more. Because this is where the power of your poem lies and where its message can be found.
4. Take Out Your Toolbox
You have done the deep digging for your muse and your angle, but now is where you get to play. This is also the point where many people feel fear of failure and give up, so I feel compelled to tell you that you do, in fact, have all the tools you need to write an awe-inspiring poem.
To write a successful poem, you really need three things: sensory images, comparison, and form. All of us have used our senses to describe an experience and comparisons to help someone understand what we are saying. We’ve all used form by using pauses, exhortations, and stresses in our voice to tell a ghost story well or to get our dogs to heel.
In poetry, you have the power to invite your reader into the senses through imagery by offering them a tangible, physical experience. Think about what you are describing in your poem and play with the five senses. What are the sounds, sights, textures, and smells that are associated with the events or things you are talking about? These insights, these sensory experiences are the building blocks for your poem.
Through comparison, you can reveal truths, stir awe; you connect your reader to the unseen. The tricky thing about love poems is that it can be easy to compare love to something kind of cliché, like a flower. When working with comparisons, it is much more interesting to think outside the box by drawing unusual comparisons. Sure, your love may be as beautiful as a flower, but what would happen if you compared something you love to a specific flower, such as an orchid? Or something unusual, like an airplane? Drawing from specificity or unlikely places will keep your readers asking for more and, ultimately, bring your poem to life.
And, through form, you have the ability to give song and power to your words, moving the reader through its music. For new poets, trying to figure out where to place or break lines can sometimes feel overwhelming; however, unless you are following a particular rhyme scheme or structure, you have the opportunity to play with the lines you are given. Perhaps your poem’s central image is rain, and so, rather than traditional lines and structure, you choose to break up the lines to look like raindrops falling from the sky. Or maybe you want to include a one-line stanza every so often to enhance a word or phrase that is central to your message. The key here is to use breaks, pauses, and line length to tell a part of your story, just as you use sensory imagery and comparison.
When in doubt, however, feel free to return to the poems that you have read and explored, and consider how those poets have used language or form to convey meaning.
5. Build and Play, Build and Play, Build and Play
Once you have written your first line or two, the next step is to continue to build and play. Take that sensory image and compare it to something simple. Begin to break up your lines in different ways. Play, let your creative process flow, and don’t judge too harshly what comes out onto the page. You want to allow your imagination to move freely—there is always time to go back and revise.
6. Review the Message
Now that you have written your poem, consider this question: What is the revelation that the reader gets as they experience your poem? Review your work, reflect on your language choices, your images, the music that you make with rhyme, the line breaks and space. Once you have decided on the revelation that your reader gets after experiencing your poem, I want you to decide if this is the message you want the reader to receive. If yes, great! If not, another opportunity is afforded to you to play—to take out your toolbox and explore your imagery, comparison, and music once more. Where can you add or remove emphasis to make an impact? What words can be changed to express your feelings for the subject more clearly? That is the beauty and fun of poetry. Each of your words, each of your deliberate actions holds power, and you get to decide how it is read.
7. Give It a Title and Let It Go
Finally, it is time to give your poem a title and let it be what it has become. The one tip that is important to remember is that you don’t want to give everything away in your title. Review your poem and look for images, sounds, and forms that keep coming up as an inspiration for your title. By doing this, your reader will be surprised and moved at the end.
Friend, my sincerest hope is that you find comfort in the knowledge that you are, in fact, carrying with you all that you need to write a love poem deep and rich with meaning. With a little bit of personal exploration, creative play, and language, the poem you have tucked deep within you can, in fact, turn the pages of your notebook into a living, breathing heart.