| Oliver Comins | Mars 2021 |
You may be a fan of lyrical passion – of which the renowned late medieval fragment “Westron wynde…” is a superb and timeless example. Or you may prefer to immerse yourself in whatever promotes the feeling of love, like the Duke of Orsino in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
To celebrate St Valentine’s Day 2021, here is a more contemporary insight, from A.K.Blakemore and Alice Willitts. Both poets write about love in a vibrant and modern manner, taking on physical intimacy and desire using language and imagery that is informed by psychological, political and ecological insight.
A.K.Blakemore has enjoyed a long career already, since winning two Foyle Young Poets’ Awards in her teens and publishing Humbert Summer at the age of 24. As you might expect, her first collection is rich with the demeanour and attitude of youth, where being ‘in heaven’ prompts a hunger for more earthly activities: “just you and me in white / and the pain of being pure at heart”. On the flipside, there is anger at what might be missing in a relationship: “this is one for the girls / who… / felt part of nothing / just fucked”.
Many of the poems in Humbert Summer are sparse and narrow on the page, emphasising a somewhat confrontational stance. Her second collection, Fondue, published in 2018, sees Blakemore writing in a more languid style, filling whole pages (albeit in a smaller format). The poem ‘February 13th’ is detached in its view of the unsuitable gestures that might occur on the following day: “love is…slowed down / like an ice-dancing championship replay / … / the moment I feel I have lost you – / when there is a heart slipped out of the race.” As a second collection, Fondue is also more complex and layered. ‘Wolf Blass’ finds the writer enjoying something more like delight: “…i haven’t / thought about a boy like this before // the combed forward hair, the way i like / to watch him touch himself, see him lay down / in a pool of sunshine”.
Blakemore’s poetry includes a lot more than just the love poems cherry-picked here. If anything, Shia LaBeouf contains the lowest proportion of love poems of the three and there is a return to short lines with few words on a page, although some are spread dramatically across the full width. This is a short and beautifully produced folded A4 pamphlet collection with poems about image, appearance and artistry. The title poem itself appears to reach out to the actor and film maker as a fellow traveller. However, the poem titled > consists of 12 short sections, each on a separate page. The first section is a riff on learning from experience, using the negative image of another filmmaker as a talisman for personal restraint before welcoming a lover’s attention: “sorry i don’t understand / phenomenology // to temper my libido / I sometimes think of Martin Shkreli // your hand / in my polyblend running shirts / milk of poppy”. As reader, you can decide for yourself if the ending image is bodily and sensual or an anaesthetic from Game of Thrones.
Please re-read ‘Love’s Easy Tears’. From the simple assertion with which it begins (that there is more to life than obsession and need, especially of boys), the poem explores the glittery surfaces of some beautiful things before suggesting a more open and natural approach of “fabulous ardour”. In this state, love’s tears are, by implication, hard-earned (not easy) but the experience may be more lived and fulfilling. The ending image is physical and confident: the shape around the shape of things.
Alice Willitts has worked with words and seeds in one way or another for her whole adult life. She arrived at writing poetry, in public at least, somewhat older than A.K.Blakemore did. Her work is, in some respects, more formally experimental: the visual shapes of some poems in her first short collection (Dear,) are the poetic hugs with which she bids her ailing Mother farewell. In one poem, ‘We seep’, feeling intrudes on the seemingly workaday: “There is toxic brine I love you maybe five times more salinated than sea water…”. In another poem phrases that have been edited out remain redacted in the printed text, even in the title ‘My tears fall in place’. These little details may not fit what the poem has become but, like the little details of a loved one, they never go away either.
This shows Willitts’ experimentation is used with a purpose beyond artifice. Both her collections include a comma at the end of the title – using the title not just as a thing in itself and a label, but as a starting point and a way into the poems contained within. The full length collection With Love, started out as a quite intimate and personal celebration of partnership in married life written for her husband. Willitts aimed “To write the garment of our love” and the imagery of clothing and the warp and weft of living together for many years runs through the whole collection. The first poem refers to the Japanese technique of Boro in which “… the stitches themselves seem to replace the garment with decades of layering.”
In the opening section, the poems include what appear to be footnotes. However, they are small poems in their own right – demanding their own space on the page: “why am I writing poems for you / you have never read a poem yourself / but it is the only way I know / to tell a thing”. Throughout the collection there are celebrations of difference and of separateness, giving a sense of the two whole beings who make up the singular couple. The opening of ‘love / at the we of our beginning’ is an affectionate and striking description of otherness: “you are a rare animal, delicate / as a glass sponge…”. In ‘love / a wish’ however, they both “sing for the clouds to be pink / and exchange our bodies the way one stone / meets another stone and they dissolve slowly through touching”.
You will have noticed how the titles (all taken from the main and middle section of the book) repeat the same structure ‘love / …’ as a trope and pulse connecting each individual poem. We should be very pleased that the Willitts’ household felt able to enter these poems for the Live Canon Poetry Collection Competition last year and we should thank the judge, Glynn Maxwell, for choosing With Love, as one of three winners.
Physical love and togetherness and touch are important threads throughout With Love, so the whole poem included here is a perfect example. It may not help to add any commentary, because the poem itself is rich with hard won care and a kind of wonder that the little things in life and love may actually be the most important.