Reinventing the love poem with Hannah Jane Walker


‘A few of the ways I love you’ by Tim Hamilton.

Poet Hannah Jane Walker gives you some tips for writing a totally original, electrifying love poem. She will also be running a free Young Poets Network love poetry workshop, as part of the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love, in London on 28 June.

Does your heart beat for someone like fifty acrobats on a trampoline?
Is your stomach a trillion butterflies in a lift?
Do you stare at the moon and will it to deliver love messages?

Write a love poem. A love poem can win a heart. A love poem can make you feel like you have got something important out. A love poem can tell you things that you did not know you knew.

If you want to become a poet, falling in love is one of the most useful things that can happen to you. As Shakespeare said in Twelfth Night, “Never durst poet touch a pen to write/ Until his ink were temper’d with Love’s sighs”.

One of the reasons for love poems is that we want to tell someone we love them but cannot tell them to their face, or words seem to do no justice to what we feel. Writing a love poem is a conversation between you and the piece of paper. It is private. Unless you choose to give it to them. Put in your love poem what you mean. What you really mean. Don’t write in the style of another poet you learnt at school, don’t use “thou” and “thee”. Don’t distance yourself. Write what you know. Use words and images as a pick and mix selection; keep trying different ones until you find exactly the right sweet sharp one.

Preparing to write your love poem

A good way to warm up for writing a love poem is to do a list poem about the heart. Think about all the different things a heart can be. Make a list of metaphors that describe the heart.

Once you have a list, go through it and pick out the most unusual, surprising one. Write a list poem with the best ones. Start with the first line “What is a heart other than a fact”. Here is my attempt:

Your heart does not look like a valentine

What is a heart other than a fact:
a radio fluting French disco,
4 head boys holding doors,
a traffic jam of atoms,
a plug socket over-crammed,
a sound system of lub-dub,
troupes and troupes of acrobats,
a home economics experiment,
a stag on a racetrack,
a lamp in park fog,
a feeling freezer,
a camera on long lens.

Writing your love poem

Now you are warmed up. Write a love poem. Here are some suggestions of things that might help.

Feel When you look at the person you love, what is in your mind? Think of words and ways to describe how they make you feel. Do they make you feel like a red balloon among a crowd of 50 green balloons? Do you they make you feel like you could run a desert? Even if they make your brain feel all confused and you can’t think straight, write about that!
Detail How did this person come in to your life? Was it love at first sight, or did you not like them until you got to know them? Where were you? What small details can you remember about the times you’ve spent with them? Little things matter. Noticing detail is a way of showing you care. Make the description unusual: is their hair like videotape? Is their smile a pair of scissors skimming across wrapping paper?
Before and now Compare how your life was before and after you met this person. Maybe you were going through a rough time and they made it better, or you were always a happy person, but they just made you smile a little wider. Everyone enjoys being told how much they matter, so be sure to let this person know how much they’ve changed your life for the better.
Tone Write your heart. Don’t worry about how it will sound. That is what editing is for and can be done afterwards. Write the things that might be a little harder to say out loud. Don’t distance yourself. Be honest and personal.
Pattern If a rhyme comes naturally, go for it, but remember that some of the greatest poems don’t rhyme. Sometimes, a sing-song rhyme can take away the heart of a poem because both writer and reader pay more attention to how the poem is written, instead of what it’s about. For a love poem, it’s about what you say, not just how you say it.


Image by Nathan Reading.

Editing your love poem

Look at your poem. Imagine it is a house that has been built with scaffolding around it. Now it is time to take the scaffolding down – the scaffolding being the parts the poem does not need. The best technique for doing this is instinct. What lines could the poem do without? Take them out. Does the house/ poem stand up without them?

Look at each image. Is it a cliché? Love poems often are. It is important that all poems tell us something in a way we were not expecting. See if you can make your images into something more unusual. For example:

“Her voice is like glistening cloud full of sunshine”
…could become something like…
“Her voice is a cloud with all the dark stripped out”

Read it out loud to yourself a couple of times. You will be able to hear when the poem works and where it does not.

Love poems after love

Ever heard the phrase ‘happiness writes white’? It means when you are happy, you don’t write, the page stays white. Many love poems are written after a love. After the love, the page turns black with lines. They are poems of longing, appreciation for a love that has not worked. So don’t be surprised if you want to write love poems after a relationship has ended. Use this.

Anti-love poems

Love poems can be cheesy and sentimental and get a bad reputation and as such it is hard to find new ways to say things, but not impossible. Experiment with different ways into a love poem. In the past I have written boyfriends anti-love poems.

On the day you came to stay

On the day you came to stay,
I said some really stupid stuff;
like doesn’t this toast all chewed up look just like vomit,
and I really don’t care when your birthday is –

but actually,
I was thinking that love is a kind of static,
that kissing accommodates the sum total of 46 desire football fields,
that your lips are like lists for all the things I’ve ever wanted.

But I want you to know, that although I make a joke of your visit,
I have stopped playing politics,
I’m stepping down the security,
I am even taking the doorman off the cathedral of feelings.

Be brave. You will know when your love poem is ready. You will feel a sense of satisfaction. Like a really great conversation has finished. I suggest writing a love poem to yourself, you deserve it. Love you feel now might be a foggy memory in the future. Keep the love poem for when you are older and you’ve made yourself a time machine.

Free workshop!

Hannah ran a FREE workshop for Young Poets Network at the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love. 14-18 year olds are invited to come along to the Royal Festival Hall, London, from 2-3pm on Saturday 28 June 2014 and join Hannah in reinventing the love poem. 

Hannah Jane Walker
Hannah Jane Walker is an award winning poet and theatre maker. Hannah has extensively toured both the UK and internationally, and been published by Oberon Books and Nasty Little Press. She produces projects, such as Haircuts by Children for Norfolk & Norwich Festival, runs workshops, most recently a poetry workshop on a train for Writers’ Centre Norwich, and creatively produces other people’s shows, currently Fergus Evans’ new show Rove.

Published June, 2014


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