What Poets Talk About When They Talk About Love

“I’m not very good at love, but I’m very good at longing,” whispered Egyptian-American poet Maged Zaher to a small, hushed crowd on Friday night at What Poet’s Talk About When They Talk About Love, a reading held at the monthlong storefront installation The Poet Is In in Pioneer Square.

The reading’s lineup of six Seattle poets showed that when you ask poets about love, they are liable to talk about anything:

Kate Lebo’s set (pictured above) opened with a recitation of W.H. Auden’s “O Tell Me the Truth About Love” followed by a series of crisply intimate erasures—a form which she referred to as “an art of loss.” Spoken word poets Daemond Arrindell and Tara Hardy both tackled the prickly and intertwining borders of lost companionship and self worth, while Christian Dusterhof and Meredith Clark illustrated the ways in which even death poems can share a space on the poetry venn-diagram with love poems: Dusterhof’s spare poems about the death of his sister, Clark’s breathy and calm modern epic about the loss of an unborn child. 

If you’ve read much love poetry, then you have probably encountered these same sentiments. Much in the fashion of songs categorized as love songs, a good majority of love poems are actually about the absence of love, the loss of it, or the anguish of letting it go. As Zaher put it during his set, love is the “business of poetry.” And perhaps he is right: in poetry love is a commodity, readily traded for heartache, disaster, loneliness, or if we’re lucky (and we poets usually don’t let on that we are) something that affords us even greater happiness than that which has left us stranded, gasping for that which no longer exists.

Poetry allows us to wrap our words around that which makes us human, when that human quality is unquantifiable, inexplicable subjective and fleeting. It also allows us to wear a mask, to organize our anxieties and hopes behind the screen and construction of our lineation, our imagined landscapes and the rhythms of our words.

And the best love poems? They say something simple that we’ve all felt in a way we’ve never thought to say it.

The Poet Is In is open at 406 Occidental Ave through Friday Sept. 28.