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Poets Online Archive


March 2023 - Issue #306

The stores are full in February of red hearts for Valentine's Day. It is supposed to be a day for love, romantic dinners, gifts, champagne, and engagements. It is also a day for some people to feel even lonelier. It's even a day for breakups.

Not to be totally unromantic but there are plenty of love poems already, and they're tough to write without sounding corny or like a young hormonal teen poet.

This February we asked for poems about breakups, which is also a poetic tradition. I was looking in a big anthology for other kinds of love poems. I found in the older poets John Clare’s "The Secret" where that love never even happens. That may be the worst kind of love poem but that's one way to avoid a breakup. "I loved thee, though I told thee not," says John. 

I found Edward Thomas' poem "Go Now" about a woman parting ways with the male speaker and the effect that her simply saying "Go now" had on him.

Like the touch of rain she was
On a man’s flesh and hair and eyes
When the joy of walking thus
Has taken him by surprise:

With the love of the storm he burns,
He sings, he laughs, well I know how,
But forgets when he returns
As I shall not forget her ‘Go now’.

Those two words shut a door
Between me and the blessed rain
That was never shut before
And will not open again.

I quite like this poem by Scottish poet Vicki Feaver titled "Coat" which uses that coat as the metaphor for the relationship. That's a nice mini-prompt. 


Sometimes I have wanted
to throw you off
like a heavy coat.
Sometimes I have said
you would not let me
breathe or move.
But now that I am free
to choose light clothes
or none at all
I feel the cold
and all the time I think
how warm it used to be.

The poem I landed on for our model this month is by Stevie Smith. She was born Florence Margaret Smith in Hull, Yorkshire in 1902. She is somewhat deceptive in her sometimes nursery-rhyme-like cadences. (She also had whimsical drawings with which she illustrated poems.) But she is a sophisticated poet, whose poems often dealt with suffering and mortality. She also has a dark sense of humor. Her most famous poem is “Not Waving But Drowning.” Give that one a read too

Our model poem is her "Pad Pad." Think of "pad" as walking with or as if with padded feet, like a cat or tiger.

The short poem's opening stanza"

I always remember your beautiful flowers
And the beautiful kimono you wore
When you sat on the couch
With that tigerish crouch
And told me you loved me no more...

Of course, breakups are not relegated only to lovers. Families break up. Companies break up. The choice is yours.

One more caveat to your submission: Is it a coincidence that there are so many love sonnets of 14 lines and that Valentine's Day is on the 14th? I think it's synchronicity rather than coincidence. Your poem must be 14 lines whether a sonnet or not. 

We have been down that 14-step road before here, so if you want some sonnety ideas take a look at our bed sonnetsphone sonnetssonnenizios inspired by Kim Addonizio and some more traditional sonnet forms.

Born Florence Margaret Smith in Hull, Yorkshire in 1902, Stevie Smith moved with her family to the North London suburbs when three, then lived in the same house the rest of her life. She graduated from the North London Collegiate School and went on to work as a secretary. She published several collections of short prose and letters as well as nearly a dozen volumes of verse. Although the nursery-rhyme-like cadences of her poems and the whimsical drawings with which she illustrated them suggest a child’s innocence, Stevie Smith was a sophisticated poet, whose work was much concerned with suffering and mortality. Her macabre sense of humor can shock, as in her most famous poem, “Not Waving But Drowning.” She died in 1971
check out the Poets Online blog.For more on all our prompts and other things poetic,


(RIP, Tom Hoehne and AJ Bumby, townies extraordinaire)
An early spring drive from Milwaukee to Ripon
past fallow cornfields and Mercury Motors
to a red-brick campus with North-Central blondes.

I climbed the stone stairs and took a seat in your office.
I said, I’ll take you if you’ll take me.
Our handshake pledged all good things for Fall.

But my roommate smoked Winston and my hash didn’t last.
The Racine girls plied me with Schnapps.
Microdot turned my first C into whatever.
But taunts of Jew from the frosh dorm did not.

After the MDA run to Oshkosh, I climbed your stairs again.
You said, This is for the best, and extended your hand.

No more acid tours of the Ransom Street Church,
where Jesus had already waved goodbye.

Rob Friedman


It happened after slightly more than a year that we had been partners.
The classes alternated a few interesting discussions and more pedantic lectures
about things that didn’t matter to anyone but my thesis advisor.
He wanted me to choose a topic that no one had written about previously,
or at least choose an author so obscure that no one had bothered to write anything
about her or him. (He definitely preferred a him.) so I searched and struggled
to find a person who was not only obscure, but whom I would care something about
in order to spend another year studying him.

When the fall semester started, I didn’t register for any graduate classes.
I went on campus to tell him that I was leaving the program.
Walking through that building, I heard an undergraduate class
discussing Thoreau and Emerson and it took me back

to what I had loved about being an English major undergraduate
and gave me the courage to break up with a doctorate.

Charles Michaels


The first time I married, I was pregnant.
The ceremony somber, but for Uncle Jimmy’s son, Gordon—Drunk. Loud.
Gordy loved to dance —this the year he was into spinning.
He laughed with his sour mouth open; head tilted to the ceiling lights;
it looked like he was swallowing crystals.
Smoke rose and created a fog that made me shiver.
My aunts fussed over me—an odd mix of shame and celebrity.
I knew the baby would be a boy; I named him.
I’ve known you forever, I whispered to him.
His father was a skinny boy I’d met in sixth grade; now, we were almost seniors.
We didn’t last long; he was a jealous man with an unstoppable want of things.
He looked at me in the early mornings as if he needed to burp.
For me, it didn’t matter. I had my son and the moon.
I had a fat dog. And I would always have love.

Patty Joslyn


Valentine’s Day will always be the feast-
day of divorce, of forced fracture, and free-
dom you never wanted – think of the beast
that tore your childhood; your family tree
split, charred, hollowed by lightning under sky.
In time, you left the courthouse free of Her
and found me waiting, also free. And I
took you. And then we made the split tree stir
with new leaves, new life for a second start.
We’re so much older now, a cozy groove;
each of us with healing left-over heart.
But those hussies Blind and Demented move
in, setting your mind and vision free to roam
away from me and the place we called home.

Taylor Graham


Her husband was dying,
and she needed a friend to be her bones.

I was that friend.

My daughter griped,
"You're more like Mary's mom
than mine." Guilt gripped me
like a hand on a hanging subway loop, but still,

I answered the midnight calls, made meals,
drove to doctor appointments.

Then the husband passed, and our relationship
took its last breath. She said I couldn't possibly
understand her life now, its new language.

The death of a man,
the death of a fifty-year friendship.

Susan Spaeth Cherry


This is about a cat, a frightened cat
who hid beneath a store in its cellar.
It’s about a marriage on the brink,
how the cat found a home with an irksome pair,
became another reason for quarrels,
accusations, promises broken.

The cat shared the marriage bed, slept between the two,
a boundary line neither dared to cross,
leaned in towards her mistress—
                  further from him.
The couple split, she took the cat.
This because of a cat in need
when all along she did not see
that he was the one in need.

Norma Ketzis Bernstock


At first unseen, water begins to rise,
slowly filling rooms, their daily life,
flooding their ship, molding it with lies
until they sink beneath waves of strife.

Many pieces do not fit as they seek
to make their puzzle whole, some fall away,
get lost amid the bustle of their week,
and soon the tiles scatter like wisps of hay.

Below their feet plates slide, begin to move,
and minor tremors shake their life, their home,
and then begin to rip apart their love,
shattering their house, leaving them alone.

And so it’s always been when two divide,
rubble falling like rain on either side.

Rob Miller


I'll always remember your
beautiful flowers
in the porcelain vase of your mother

on the wooden table you varnished

those flowers chosen alone—
even when you were too tired to work you went to get them
at the Monday market

always I'll
the displays in your living room

I think
I'll remember
the flowers

Lee Burke González


Yesterday my knee hurt and today my stomach hurts
and amazingly my knee has stopped hurting
but my stomach is killing me. My head feels like a
hundred mediocre love poems with throbbing
feet up on a table in my head. And now my foot hurts
too. I think it’s all referred pain from my heart
which hurts more than anything since this morning
I told you I don’t love you. I only feel sorry for you.
As if love weren’t a great pity. But now I know
the hurt in your eyes is radiating out to my heart
and making me sick with—radiation. The whole house
is contaminated. I know now if I stay here it will kill me.
Pity I didn’t know all this till this morning. My heart
pricks. But my knee feels like a million bucks.

Paul Hostovsky


Five-year-old Zaya brings Barbie to Grandma’s house
For their Saturday play date. Barbie wears her white lace wedding gown.
Zaya announces, “Barbie got divorced. She was married to Ken but today she married Jack.
You can get divorced and marry someone else and have another wedding
Whenever you want.” Grandma takes a slow breath and turns away.
She reflects on the sixty years of her marriage to Zaya’s
Grandpa, puttering now in the garden. She remembers their struggles,
Moments when they might have given up, but their long love lasted.
She wipes her tears with her apron so precious Zaya won’t notice.
Then Grandma gazes out to the bird house where the same wrens
Return every year. Her parents must have told her they’re
Both divorced and re-married like her other grandparents, she muses.
She turns to her granddaughter and starts to speak but stops as she realizes,
Zaya wouldn’t even be here if they had kept their promises.

Rose Anna Higashi


Timing is everything - many seem to believe
And so, he chose her birthday - the month they had wed
To say they were over - he was going to leave
It was selfish, heartless; she cried her eyes red

She asked the hard questions; he spoke easy lies
Like suspect and detective; like a guilty spouse
His stealing and cheating were a cruel surprise
He left her, the kids and a mortgaged old house

He had no remorse for the ongoing affair
The divorce brought behavior - his lowest of all
The man she had once loved was no longer there
He wanted to break her; he wanted her to fall

And so he got his money, new house, car and wife
She - her kids' love and respect; she - the better life

Terri J. Guttilla


I stared back, aghast and stung with regret,
too late to clamber back onto the train.
I howled at the moon. I tried hard to forget.
I’d never see you or my luggage again.
My suitcase packed with my mem’ries of you,
sped off into the distance, clickety-clack.
I stumbled on alone, empty handed,
With eyes on feet, to avoid looking back.
The way that I lost you was careless,
like leaving luggage aboard a train.
I am still here, waiting at the same station,
gnawing my hand as I stare through the rain,
hoping, longing, wondering, waiting,
for your train to stop at my station again.

John Botterill