Teaching love poetry to teenagers is funny. They pretend they are not touched, shrugging off the romanticism with the “it’ll never happen to me, I’ll never feel like that” glance. But deep down, as complicated and terrifying as love seems, it is all they really want. It is all anyone really wants. I told them that we would be dividing love poetry into Meeting, Mating, Living together and Parting. They cringe with the Mating part. Find the Meeting a little corny and seem strangely reassured by the Parting selections. This one by ee cummings got them going:
i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite a new thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like,, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh . . . . And eyes big Love-crumbs,
and possibly i like the thrill
of under me you quite so new
Despite the fact that it is written as a 14 line sonnet, it is a poem that follows the pattern of sex; the breathing, the hesitation, the speeding up, the slowing down. My students, sweet prudes that they are, were ever so slightly freaked out by the “shocking fuzz of your electric fur”. I tried to get them to imagine describing a kiss. Writing about intimacy without being cheesy or pornographic is really hard.
Finally I got a poem that had them all excited. (Well, at least the girls. Not sure I am going to get the boys into this one.) It is called Without You by Adrian Henri:
Without you every morning would feel like going back to work after a holiday,
Without you I couldn’t stand the smell of the East Lancs Road,
Without you ghost ferries would cross the Mersey manned by skeleton crews,
Without you I’d probably feel happy and have more money and time and nothing to do with it,
Without you I’d have to leave my stillborn poems on other people’s doorsteps, wrapped in brown paper,
Without you there’d never be sauce to put on sausage butties,
Without you plastic flowers in shop windows would just be plastic flowers in shop windows…
It continues in this vein, bringing private jokes and popular culture to the corny “luv” poem table. Homework is to write their own Without You poem. From what I have glimpsed it is good stuff!