considering love poetry

I’ve never been able to stand most love poetry (or most love songs, for that matter). Too much is just trite, too much is just sappy and pathetic (including, sadly, too much of my own!), and some of it is just outright creepy, predatory, and violent. I once had a male lover who held my waist-long hair around my neck and quoted a Browning poem about a man strangling his mistress. I wasn’t being strangled, or seriously threatened, but still — umm, ick, and I got rid of the hair and the male lovers not so long after that.

Anyway, now that I’m thinking about poetry pretty much all the time. Recently a lot of that focus on has been on Sappho, in case you’d not noticed in recent postings. I’m loving Willis Barnstone’s translation, and in particular his incredibly thoughtful introduction. (I’m sure the notes are great too, but generally more than I need to know as a poetic, not linguistic, reader). He has a passionate defense for reading her love poems as openly sexual and lesbian, with a great review of how attempts to hide this have distorted our understanding of her and of poetry in general. In the midst of that, though, he says this:

(Much of the world’s love poetry is homoerotic, and in ancient Greek poetry, the majority of love poems by known male poets, from Ibykos to Pindar, are addressed to other men)

Which has left me wondering about the connection between this and love poems in general. If so many of the models held up to us as “great love poems” have always been homoerotic/gay male homosexual, is it any wonder that so much of it feels completely inauthentic to me as a woman? For heterosexual men writing, at least in theory, to women, how have these models confined and defined their emotional reality? And how many love poems have ever been to an actual person and not to some muse, some unrequited passion viewed from a distance as perfection incarnate, some ideal of a lover utterly separate from the messy reality we are all as humans?

What would an authentic heterosexual love poetry be? Lesbian love poetry, allowed to develop outside of the models foisted on us? I’m really curious now about contemporary gay male love poetry, written from within a time and place where “gay” is a social identity, not just a sexual identity within a different social role.

For right now, I’m sitting with one small fragment of a fragment of Psapfo’s writing, a bit that may well be my next literary tattoo:

for praying
this word:
I want

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