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February 2019

I was watching the video of Naomi Shihab Nye reading "Valentine for Ernest Mann," which was made as part of the Academy of American Poets' educational project for National Poetry Month in 2014.

There will be many cards given on February 14 with good and bad verses about love. But not all Valentine's Day verses have to be about love or be happy - though that is usually the hope.

Did you give and get valentines as a child in school? When my sons were in elementary school, we were told that you had to have one for everyone in the class. This seemed to defeat the purpose, but it was politically correct and we looked for packages of cards that contained ones that were innocuous enough to give to both his female and his male classmates without causing a scene.

Reading Valentine for Ernest Mann by Naomi Shihab Nye, we find her response to a request for a poem from a boy. (I imagine it to be a student in a class she has visited.) That's not the way it works with poems, she might have said. But she does write him a poem, even though:

"You can’t order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, “I’ll take two”
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate."

Nevertheless, the poet continues:

"Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, “Here’s my address,
write me a poem,” deserves something in reply."

She has suggestions on where you might find a poem: "They are the shadows / drifting across our ceilings the moment / before we wake up." And advice: "What we have to do / is live in a way that lets us find them."

Her valentine to Ernest is a poem, but it is also ways to find his own poems.

"Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know."

Our writing prompt for February is a valentine, but that certainly doesn't mean it must be a love poem. It might be difficult to find a serious or sad Valentine's Day card in a store, but I'm sure they have been written. 

A poet connection to all of this goes back to medieval English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. There are no records before his writing of romantic celebrations on Valentine’s Day. But when he wrote around 1375 his “Parliament of Foules,” he connected a tradition of courtly love with the celebration of St. Valentine’s feast day. That connection didn’t exist until he made it. In his poem February 14 is the day when birds and humans try to find a mate.

“For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”

Chaucer may have invented the holiday. The original valentine predates Chaucer. That valentine may have expressed love, but was certainly written under sad conditions. According to one version, an imprisoned Valentine (not yet Saint Valentine) sent a note of love to a young girl (possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement) before his execution. He signed it “From your Valentine.” That expression is still in use today.


For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


I send my love by snowflake
twenty miles, so far away from you.

This Valentine’s Day has dropped
from sun to sleet, ten degrees of mercury.

In the time it took for me to miss you,
I find myself at snowline,

so far from you in our lovely
green valley. It’s not supposed to snow.

But exactly so, they say, is love.
I send my love to you by snowflake.

Taylor Graham


Quel dommage! She’s damaged goods, a beautiful and scrumptious cake left out in the rain.
More years than she’ll admit have passed by with her on the fly to somewhere she’s never sure of.
A glorious cacophony greets the intensity of her ear each morning. Wouldn’t you love to love her?
Did you ever stop loving her? With a hop, skip, and a jump she can still make it into the winding metaphor of your heart.
If you’ll let her.

R. Bremner


In kindergarten, everyone got a valentine from everyone else.
February 14 was a kind of democracy.
But later the day became more selective.
A republic governed by a group of nobles.
And in high school, a monarchy reigned
and ceremonial roles distributed roses and candies.

But a monarch does not have state power
and I am now a dictator -
with absolute power
one person
no valentines.

Pamela Milne


Dearest, is not a eulogy a valentine?
We honor, we tell stories
Our wish to bring one closer
To the person we knew
The person we loved
Much like that book or movie
That we tell our friends about
The desire to share
To spread the joy given you
To hold up that which has touched you
So that others too may marvel
At its beauty, its wonder
Its humanity
We say - know this person
Whom I have loved
I give you her in all her humanness
And in the telling and sharing
She lives again
And the teller reaches out
To say this is what I have lost
This what I will miss
This is what you have missed
This is why my world is darker
And my nights turn to day
Death does not extinguish love
That would be a mercy
Rather it evicts us
From love’s shield
It forces us to find a new home
For within us now is too little space
For the love we shared
And the love that grew from it
And yet there is too much space as well
For where two once supped now there is one
We feel the pain of the swell
And the hollowed out flesh
I the eulogizer
The abandoned lover
My love homeless
My pain visible
For any who care to look
Like a lighthouse keeper
My words a beam of light
Searching, seeking, unending
But who will rescue me?
Who will be my guide?
I too am the sailor lost
And so I’ll remain
Until I have found my place
Again beside you, with you, in you
Forever and ever
My love

Terri J. Guttilla


She was
All freckles and red hair
Emerald eyed
Bubbling with energy
Unaware of her
Perfect imperfections

He was
Buck-toothed and Doughboy fat
Shaking with anxiety
Aware of nothing but her
Imperfect perfectness

They were
Never to be
More than just a fantasy
A Valentine
Signed but never sent
Perfectly imperfect

Frank Kelly


Oh how hard is to be with my mind full of lies
that you told me while I felt (Again) so Alive!
I was strong, so I thought, nothing puts me aside:
I am now, now I do what I want, I am mine!
And you saw, and you fed, my truth twisted around
to your liking, and you said you will like for a While (?!)
Didn’t hear that remorse, little hint what’s inside
of your mind, couldn’t see, overwhelmed by my wanting For Life!
Want to share what I see, look my positive mind is Capable,
not afraid to have dreams, to show Pride!
What I’ve got is all yours, Valentine, Drop the Act
and just be, fell in love with my mind Just Like That!
But your love is not right, it’s a self-pleasing Drive
to You, and no place in it for any good, am I Right?
Oh how hard, Valentine, is the ground when I lie on it right
on my Face (And Again!)
Black and White.



I made my love a valentine,
two sky blue hearts, tied
together with pink satin
ribbon. Tried to paint a
violet, but that didn't turn
out so well. Gathered verse
from the world's greatest
love poems. Wrote them on
small papers and folded
them like fortunes. I put
cinnamon in your coffee,
made you a heart shaped
meatloaf. I hope this is
enough. I hope you bought
me that comb. I saved my
hair for you.

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello