Friday, February 14, 2014

VALENTINE’S DAY: Poets Illuminate Fine Art of Writing For Love


It’s Valentine’s Day. And you want to let that special someone know how much you’re into them.

But don’t panic, just because Feb. 14 is the big day for amour, eros, amore, and you’re not sure about the right way to express that flame of passion we call love.

We asked some Inland poets to offer tips to help you carve words of enchantment upon your desperately beating heart – or a Valentine’s Day card. Your pick.


Bards living and writing in the Inland area agree that a love poem is a gift from one soul to another.

“It’s a very personal expression of love, of gratitude. It’s an embrace that we rarely show. And that’s why it becomes a love poem; because it has something in it that has not been shown,” said California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, who teaches creative writing at UC Riverside.

Writing a poem allows one person to show how they feel about another in a creative, personal way, said Riverside resident Gayle Brandeis, literary laureate for Inlandia Institute, a nonprofit literary center based in Riverside.

It’s much more personal than a box of candy,” said Brandeis, author of “The Book of Dead Birds.”

A good love poem is about the longing for connection – whether that’s a physical, emotional or mental connection via understanding, said San Bernardino Valley College English professor Nikia Chaney.

“We can talk about the sex, we can talk about the emotion, or we can talk about the feeling we feel. But all of that is just that wanting and needing to connect to another human being in some kind of way,” said Chaney, a published poet who launched an online journal for experimental poetry and recently started Jamii Publishing.

Chaney figures she’s written close to 100 love poems. Most are so private, she doesn’t share them. Brandeis and Herrera say they’ve written very few so far. Brandeis said that estimating how many she’s penned is a bit tricky: She and her husband are separated, but trying to reconcile.

Asked if she’s now working on a love poem for him, Brandeis quickly replied: “I probably should.”


The trio agreed would-be poets don’t have to hide themselves away in a secret garden illuminated by the moon and candlelight to create a great poem. If writers have to work in certain conditions, they are probably not going to get around to writing, Brandeis said.

The place to get to is that place in the heart and mind where you feel and know love, Chaney said.

The way to do that, Herrera said, is to “let yourself flow.” If you have to go to a certain place to write, you limit your love – and your love poem, he said.

“Love is everywhere. So once you start blocking out a space, you start blocking out love,” Herrera said.

By going to a certain spot to write, one is, in essence, trying to catch love, he added.

“You can't catch love. You can't sneak up on it. Because it's all around you. It's like being a fish and trying to sneak up on the ocean,” Herrera said.

A good love poem expresses what’s in a person’s heart, Brandeis said.

It must include truth, whether that’s about the awkwardness of sex, something silly, or even pain, Chaney said.

The poem must include what you’ve never been able to say before, Herrera added.

Words of love put to verse are so powerful – so “incantatory and even prophetic” – that a poet might even write about a beloved who appears only after the words are down on paper, he said.

But Herrera doesn’t recommend that people without someone to write a poem for attempt to conjure up their heart’s desire with a mystic poem. Instead, Herrera recommends writing a love poem for a leaf. That’s the same as writing a love poem for a person.

“If you can open yourself up that much, then you're ready to embark on that love journey,” he said. “But if you can't write a love poem for a leaf, then just hang out. Hang out with leaves.”

While lovely love poems, such as the work of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, can be used to guide poets, Herrera laughed gently as he advised against thinking too much about writing love.

That could take the love out of the poem.

“The idea is to write love. Not think, then write love,” he said. “Because by then, the love will have cooled.”

Contact Suzanne Hurt at 951-368-9444 or


Be specific. Write about a shared memory, something you love about a person or something that helps define him or her.

Fill a poem with personal appreciation for your beloved.

Be authentic.

Draw a heart. Color or paint it to represent both of you. Write on it, however you think is right.

Write from the heart.

Remember a good love poem is about freedom and breaking through fear.

Open up and let yourself – and love – flow.

Have fun and enjoy the poem.

RESOURCES: Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair;” Poets & Writers website,; Poetry Foundation’s website,