Soon after I started dating my wife, I decided I would write her poetry. I had never been a great poet. The only time I had been published was when I was 14 years old in a large book of poetry where I'm pretty sure the editors published anyone willing to pay the price of the book (the poem started, "Lost in a world of hate and confusion..." and was terrible).
For our first Christmas together, after about five months of dating, I worked with a local artist to print her a physical book of poetry I had been writing in secret to surprise her.
I know there are many husbands, wives, partners, friends, and others out there like me who aren't professional poets. But, they want to share something special and personal with a person they love—something more than the words of a generic card you pay $5 for a CVS.
Here is how I wrote the poem "Kiss You Boldly" from that book of poetry I made my wife in 2017, with three principles anyone can use.
What makes poetry poetic to the average person is the use of symbols or images that go beyond what many of us are capable of pulling out of our brains on command.
When I started this poem, I knew I wanted to write about the first time I kissed my wife (which I'll get to later). But to start with that story wouldn't have been poetic. "Hey, remember that time I kissed you outside my Honda Civic on our first date." So, I decided to focus on what it took to make me kiss her. It took boldness. And when I thought of the boldness to do it, I thought of the boldness from her to respond. I thought of how that felt. And what came to mind were colors.
My paintbrushes are
harmonies and stanzas
moving gently across blank canvases
dripping words, bright colors,
painting all the ways I kiss you.
I decided that I would use colors to describe the action. And I decided to focus the poem on more than just the first time but on many of the times we've kissed and the theme that permeated it all. I will never kiss you lightly. I will always kiss you boldly, like the first time.
Once I decided that I would write the poem using colors, I had to find the appropriate language. I didn't want to just say, "Kissing you reminds me of all the wonderful colors out there."
I started with a blank canvas because that was our world before the kiss. And, since I knew my wife very well from the moment we met, I knew she might get thrown off if I started making these comparisons between kisses and colors with no explanation as to how I made the connection ("That's sweet, honey, but what in the world are you talking about?"). From the beginning of our dating life, she knew I am a writer. So I decided to preface the poem by saying: I know I'm not a painter, but with my words I am going to paint on this canvas the ways I kiss you.
One of the key aspects of communication you learn in journalism school is to show not tell. In plain English, this means you avoid telling the reader the thing: this is awesome, cool, beautiful, incredible, terrible, one of a kind. That may not mean anything to them. We all have different definitions of beauty and boldness. You have to show it. I picked specific scenarios where I could show how I kissed her, and I described them in detail.
Take this paragraph:
I push close to feel your warmth
and brush my lips across your quivering nose.
On sunset walks,
I grip your hand and kiss you tenderly,
your skin-soft cheeks cushions for my journeying lips.
As waterfalls crash into rocks below, I hold you;
wrapped together we watch it all—
and I know I could kiss you anywhere, my love.
I showed her scenarios when and described how we kissed. I didn't merely say: "That time we kissed on the mountain your nose was so cold," "Your cheeks are so soft." "I like holding you close to kiss you."
This is an approach I try to take to any writing I do, and it is a natural complement to writing that uses strong imagery and poetic word choice.
If you're like me—a normal, everyday person and not Emily Dickinson or Pablo Neruda or Robert Frost—you're going to get self conscious from time to time about your grammar, vocabulary, etc. To avoid that, I focused on very specific things that my wife would appreciate, not because of how remarkable the language is, but because of the memories/feelings they recalled.
We all have very specific moments with our loved ones. I had known Haley from playing soccer together for nearly 2 years, but I was always too chicken to ask her out. When I finally did, over the phone, she was at the beach. A week elapsed between our first phone call and first date. During that time, we spoke for hours until 3 a.m. every night learning more and more about each other, quickly falling in love. Because I am a romantic, and I knew there was already a deep connection between us, I decided the first thing I was going to do when I picked her up for our first date was kiss her (of course, with her permission). The climax of the poem is that specific memory.
But, I would rather kiss you as it was the first time:
In a driveway outside your house,
the engine running as I stood outside the car door,
my heart beating in my chest so hard it nearly burst
before you ever made it down the steps,
and I asked nervously,
“May I kiss you now?”
and it only took a second;
I felt your warm lips pressed against mine,
a Cambrian explosion of colors all across the canvas—
red, yellow, blue, purple, green,
all the bright ones,
If you like this breakdown or found it helpful, I ask that you share it with one person. If you want to work with me to learn how to write personalized love poems for people in your life, please email me: briancanever (at) gmail (dot) com.