Prize-winning poet and writer Michael Pedersen recommends five great poems about love.
This is part of our Early Career Writers’ Resources pack on Love, including exercises, a podcast and an article, all covering the broad topic of writing about love. Our Resources packs are generously supported by Arts Council England. Discover more here →
I love love poems—it’s what got me into writing poetry. Love the ones that are an extension of the love letter, the repurposed belles-lettres. Each of my collections come pullulating with the gooiest of love stuff. The most recent, Oyster, opens with a poem called Obsessive Cannibal Love Poem. My first prose book, Boy Friends, is one sprawling love-letter to friendship that arrives bearing the banner: perhaps friendships are the greatest love affairs of our lives. So you know, there’s conviction in this correspondence—unwavering, unending, ridiculous.
Although these tips come poetry flavoured, I profess that they’re just as relevant to the construction of prose (at least the poetically minded or literary stock).
Writing about love is writing about wildness, lassoing your own delightful delusions and applying a candy coating or a cheesy crust. It’s us at our most extreme, vulnerable, and hyper-emotional. Us drunk on emotion. Us passing off smut as sentiment. Or not.
I love the atypical love poem even more than those about romantic love. Love is larger than rom-coms and greeting cards would have us believe. In the land of the lilted, the atypical love poem reigns supreme — e.g. a love poem to a friend, to a pet, to ourselves; a love poem that lambasts the very notion of romantic loving.
For my five tips, I’m unfurling before you five of my favourite love poems. Poems I would attest have a quirk, twist, unusual plot or unique perspective to them. A little cheeky, but there you have it.
I implore you to read and ruminate these poems (all are available online):
- Hera Lindsay Bird — Ways of Making Love
In this masterclass of savvy similes and a quirky metaphors, Hera drops a veil of silliness over lovemaking. All the preposterousness and oddness of it all. The act, the ritual, the sticky bits. Follow her train of thought and see what bizarre realms it takes you to.
- Ocean Vuong — Ode to Masturbation
A poem about self-love that starts a bit like an ars poetica and only to become a rallying call for tenderness. This takes something that could be vulgar or shameful or childish and makes it astoundingly beautiful.
- Andrew McMillan — A Gift
How wonderful to find a poem to the ex-lovers, the ones that got away, or never got the chance, the ones you forget, or who forget you. The love’s abandoned. What ghastly splendour can be found by scavenging into your own murky past?
- Carol Ann Duffy — Valentine
Some mordant and fierce insights into the quiddity of an onion become a wayward road-map to love, heartbreak and expectation. For all the lovers of curios and talisman.
- Edwin Morgan — Strawberries & One Cigarette & A View of Things
There’s such a slew of brilliance to be found in the love poetry of Edwin Morgan that I couldn’t contain myself to just one picking. The structure of this final piece in particular is an ace one to use for writing exercises. You’ll see what I mean when you read it.
Long live the love in it / them / us — We who loved sincerely; we who loved sae fiercely (from Jackie Kay’s Fiere).
Michael Pedersen is a prize-winning Scottish poet, writer, scribbler, stitcher.
He’s unfurled two acclaimed collections of poetry with Polygon Books and his prose debut, Boy Friends, is out with Faber & Faber in July 2022. He won a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship, the John Mather’s Trust Rising Star of Literature Award, and was a finalist for the 2018 ‘Writer of the Year’ at The Herald Scottish Culture Awards. With work anthologised by the likes of Pan MacMillan and Canongate Books, Pedersen has collaborated with musicians, film-makers, and visual artists.
Pedersen also co-founded Neu! Reekie! — a prize-winning literary production house that has been producing cutting edge shows in Scotland and the world over for over ten years. Within this capacity he has produced and curated events with and for: Edinburgh International Festival; Edinburgh International Book Festival; Hull City of Culture 2017; Mayor of London’s Borough of Culture; BBC Arts; and more. He also co-edited the Neu! Reekie! #Untitled anthology series, published by Polygon Books, charting ten years of Neu! Reekie! through poetry and music.
His writing has appeared in the likes of: The Rialto, Ambit, The Dark Horse, Gutter, The Scotsman, Popshot, Q, The Skinny, Guardian and more.
You can follow him at @ScribePedersen.