Edited by Robert Alden Rubin
Algonquin Books, 200 pp.
Love is a slippery thing. How do you tell that special person you love him or her above all others and that no one else matters? Should you compare her to a rose or to the moon and stars? Been there, done that. The next time you feel tongue-tied, pick up Robert Alden Rubin's Love Poetry Out Loud—a fresh collection of 100 love poems from two years ago to 10 centuries ago.
All of these poems are meant to be read out loud. As Rubin says, "If you gotta use words, you might as well use good ones." But be warned: Some of these poems are not about the nice side of love. There's heartbreak, miscommunication and loneliness here, too. But then, what poetry collection would be complete without Robert Frost's "Fire and Ice" and T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"? Besides Eliot's melancholy ode to the lovelorn, Rubin serves us Shakespeare, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Nikki Giovanni, Dorothy Parker, Walt Whitman, Marge Piercy, Langston Hughes, plus a song by the rapper Common, along with many others to be savored over and over again.
To help lovers and would-be lovers, Rubin supports the poems with marginalia to render them more accessible and engaging for those folks who haven't read poetry since high school. Readers may learn more about each poet's motivations for writing that piece, while also brushing up on sonnets, villanelles and slam poetry.
Rubin is a kind voice who guides his readers through universal themes as he provides definitions for places ("Istrian=Region near Trieste on the Adriatic Sea" from "Not Marble Nor the Gilded Monuments" by Archibald MacLeish) and things (such as "sleightly=misleadingly" and "pule=whimper" in Michael Drayton's poem, "Nothing But No and I"). He adds tidbits about the poet's personal life that enhance each poem's meaning, such as the relevance of Oscar Wilde hiding his homosexuality in "Silentium Amoris" or Thomas Hardy's loveless marriage in "The Voice." In Love Poetry Out Loud, the poet is always speaking directly to the reader and never through a "speaker." Rubin assumes these poets aren't making any of this love up, because why should they? These are love poems, after all, and they suggest the poet's personal story, which rightly makes it the readers' story, too.
Within the hearty stew of contemporary and classic verse, Rubin also makes several poems into conversation partners. Such is the case with John Donne's "Come, Madam, Come, All Rest My Powers Defy" and J.V. Cunningham's "Aged Lover Discourses in the Flat Style." Cunningham's poem (written in 1971) models Donne's, pays homage to it, and also shapes the lines with a modern tone that's ironic and bittersweet: "There are, perhaps, whom passion gives a grace/ Who fuse and part as dancers on the stage/ But that is not for me, not at my age/ Not with my bony shoulders and fat face."
I only wish that Love Poetry Out Loud had included the poet's birth and death dates on the same page as the poem, along with each poem's publication date. Doing so would have helped create connections between the poem for those readers both new and familiar with poetry. But even without handy dates, this is a fun book that makes us think hard about the "L" word and why it's always so hard to express what we mean, especially when our sauce is boiling, so to speak.
So, do yourself a favor, cuddle up with this collection and steal a few lines from the best when you're fighting for words in the name of love.