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Sex and haikus

  • 07 November 2013

Saying we love someone can take all our courage, our wisdom, our foolishness. Often we don't know how to say it. When we do get to say we love someone, sometimes we reach for the pitch known as poetry. Of all the art forms, poetry and song relay love most immediately. A book of all new work (Australian Love Poems 2013, edited by Mark Tredinnick) shows how poetry can stretch the message to screaming point, or say it all in a few seconds. Poetry allows us to say just how silly we feel or can make of a simple admission, something sublime.

Michael Sharkey asks profusely:

The sky that falls in children's tales,the tide that ebbs, the moon's Swiss cheese,Nijinsky's dance. Stravinsky's Flood;what if I said you're all of these.

While Petra White forces a needful perspective:

Hogging both time and world,soul of another'sbody, making usas we make it,no fighting for it,it blasts doubt out.

And the singer Paul Kelly opts not for the big ballad this time, but the minimal haiku:

Time is elasticTogether, days disappearApart, seconds crawl

Anyone writing love poetry needs be aware of the pitfalls of sentimentality. 'When we kissed,' claims Michael Crane, 'peach trees in China / did not blossom.' He distances himself further by considering:

Maybe there is no geniusin a kiss, just a hungera thousand centuries oldand a need for comfortwillow trees can not fathom.

Sentimentality though is not to be confused with sentiment. Every poem in the book expresses sentiments, from the passionate to the objective, the innocent to the experienced, the idealistic to the cynical. Peter Rose's Catullan persona says of love-making, 'It's more intimate / and exacting than one of his feeling lyrics.'

And indeed, love poetry expresses by knowledge and a little art the desires and experiences that necessarily remain inexpressibly personal to the individual. Anne M. Carson writes about 'honing / the human, so we too become vast, / and all that is paltry in us, blown away.'

It is true to say that most poems are written for love's sake, for what the Greeks call agape; still, most of this collection is tangled up in eros. The book confirms the given that love poetry in English means the erotic before other forms of love, i.e. affective and familial love, love of nature and nation, let alone the supreme love of God. Be that as it may, we are not alone when we read Bronwyn Lovell:

Outside the world is