The figure a poem makes. It begins in delight and ends in wisdom. The figure is the same as for love. No one can really hold that the ecstasy should be static and stand still in one place. It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification of life -- not necessarily a great clarification . . . but in a momentary stay against confusion.
-- Robert Frost
As if love weren't confusing enough, this year we're faced not only with the usual Valentine's Day hype but also with the ultimate in anti-romance, shows like "The Bachelorette," "Joe Millionaire" and "Are You Hot?" This is the "reality" of true love in 2003? Ten-pound chocolates, diamonds-and-thigh-highs-are-forever ads, and a bunch of brain-dead, money-grubbing exhibitionists competing to win America's heart?
Surely we long for something else. Deep down we must know that Valentine's Day is a crock, and Joe Millionaire is a happy idiot. So why do we buy into it all? Why do we let Valentine's Day send us into an FTD frenzy if we're in a relationship, and into a Ben & Jerry's binge if we're not? Why do we tune in to see if the Bachelorette will give her heart, or just a hickey, to her latest hottie?
Maybe what we need is a reality check -- what Robert Frost might call a "momentary stay against confusion." We need to be reminded of something we know is true -- that real love, as opposed to commercialized love, does exist, in huge range and depth and pitch. And we can find it by flipping off the TV, ignoring the Hallmark hooey, and turning to what Poet Laureate Billy Collins has called "the only history of the human heart we have" -- poetry. In poetry we'll find the real thing, love in all its struggle and simplicity, a centuries-old "reality" story told by some of the world's most brilliant, hilarious, heartbreaking observers of the human condition. In poetry we'll find love as Frost describes it, an experience that "begins in delight . . . and ends in a clarification of life."
This Friday, clarify your life. Forget Valentine's Day -- but remember love, through poetry.
Remember love's bliss:
I have slept with you
All night long while
The dark earth spins
With the living and the dead,
And on waking suddenly
In the midst of the shadow
My arm encircled your waist.
Neither night nor sleep
Could separate us.
-- From "Night on the Island," by Pablo Neruda
you fit into me
like a hook into an eye
a fish hook
an open eye
-- "you fit into me," by Margaret Atwood
And its acceptance of imperfection:
Here I am in the garden laughing
An old woman with heavy breasts
And a nicely mapped face
How did this happen
Well that's who I wanted to be
-- From"Here," by Grace Paley
Esselman and Velez are editors of the anthologies "The Hell With Love: Poems to Mend a Broken Heart" (Warner Books, 2002) and "Kiss Off: Poems to Set You Free" (Warner Books, 2003).