For February’s PWA, our editors sought out poems that examine all the best, and worst, of Love: like Chelsea Bayouth’s poem in BOAAT that investigates the brutality of self-love, like Victoria Chang’s “Dear P,” read by our Poet Laureate, that makes a knife of the heart, like Kelli Russell Agodon’s new work that seeks out universal connections, or Emily Yoon’s “Decency,” which takes a stand at the intersection of love and pain.
Forgive me. I never thought
I would wear the hand
of a glimmering lake
and fall asleep in a home near
a man who smells like laundry.
by Chelsea Bayouth in BOAAT
“I was sure I deserved the year-long anal fissure,” Chelsea Bayouth writes in her introspective poem in the January-March 2019 issue of BOAAT. While the title suggests a love poem, the subject of the poem is revealed to be self-love as the speaker recalls “accidental mushrooms / growing in the backseat of my Toyota” and “the man on whose floor I woke up / covered in ants,” moving toward a soaring “Forgive me.” With these gruesome images and self-deprecating humor in her tone, Bayouth’s poem remembers that every beginning denotes an ending—and an end to self-sabotage is a wise and hopeful feeling to carry into a new year: “I never knew / it could be like this. / That I had the right.”
the only thing that is not an argument
from Dear P.
by Victoria Chang on The Slowdown with U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith
The first act of love in Victoria Chang’s “Dear P.” is the direct address of the epistolary title using an initial, indicating that the reader is entering a secret speech. The title contributes to the feeling of secrecy and intimacy in the opening lines: “Someone will love you many will love / you many will brother you some of these / loves will bother you some will leave you.” The speaker of this monologue wants to impart some hard-learned wisdom, to warn the recipient “you won’t know / he is right until you have already wrung your / own heart dry your hands dripping knives.” These lines, and images like “weep the tearless kind of / weep the kind of weep that drowns your / organs” evoke the pain in love, while the sound play, caesuras, and enjambments allow lines to be read in multiple ways, pointing to love’s mystery.
Someone you love
will break your favorite coffee mug and bring you lilacs. And you
will be connected to people who make your eyes roll.
by Kelli Russell Agodon in Waxwing
The voice is singular, yet searching, in Kelli Russell Agodon’s poem “String Theory Relationships” in Waxwing’s Fall 2018 issue. The speaker is trying to explain a profound truth: “The essential idea is this — the man you love is connected to you / no matter what, but he’s also connected to the woman down the street.” And she’s also connected to someone you know, and so forth. By presenting scenarios of personal specificity, such as a partner “thinking about the spin teacher with the nice breasts” and feeling “sad when you look in the mirror because we all want to live / a little longer,” Agodon’s poem illuminates the anxieties shared by all. The poem’s push-and-pull feeling is propelled by alternating indented couplets, ultimately circling back to its opening scene—reminding the reader of the universality of human experience, “You are and are not the speaker in this story.” The poem champions love because in it, the reader is beloved.
When a man threw his fist into a wall next to my eye
I said that was love, that love was rage.
by Emily Yoon in The Paris Review
I want to get this entire poem as a tattoo. OK, maybe that’s hyperbolic, but Emily Yoon’s verse is needle sharp, calling out a common yet difficult to articulate concept—the sinister that lurks disguised as love. Many of us learn from childhood that love is pain, and are doomed to seek what is familiar to us until a breaking point is reached. Yoon holds a flashlight to the belief (myth) of the ego that we are responsible for the love or unlove we receive: “Even years later I could not speak of men / and their violence because I wanted to believe, yes, / in such a thing as decency in men I loved. That my love / was decent.” The poem’s naming of what love is and is not reminds me of Louise Glück’s poem “First Memory,” which also speaks to the love/pain paradox and abusive male figures. The poem triumphs in the anaphora of its final lines, concluding these men are “gone, not gone enough.” A-MEN.