Rhodri Marsden: Love poetry may seem like a good idea – but most of us can't do it

Life on Marsden
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The Independent Online

Persuading someone that your romantic intentions are serious is a tricky business. If you're at the "persuasion" stage there's a good chance that they don't want your romantic intentions to be serious at all. They've probably got their fingers crossed that you're playing a practical joke. But you're in no mood for joking. The gifts you've carefully chosen – trinkets, bouquets, mixtapes, Boots vouchers – are testament to that. And if these don't convince them of your devotion, you still have one ace left to play. Poetry.

Love poetry can seem like a good idea. In theory it entwines your sensitive side with your creative streak in an exquisite, star-crossed union. But most of us are ill-equipped to take this on. We wouldn't rewire someone's house in an expression of lustful desire unless we were sure that the results wouldn't be catastrophic, and the same should go for poetry. My friend Kerry once received such a poem, a five-stanza attempt to get her naked ("which didn't work," she notes.) "The night was a horse," begins her valiant suitor, worryingly, "and the orphaned eels were crying, just like eels cry." Using the romantic symbolism of eels and horses is pretty brave, but not as brave as his next gambit: "I have embraced the eight hearts of a dead octopus." Whoah.

It's a terrible poem, but somehow heroic. We have language, this incredible resource, at our disposal to help us communicate with each other as best we can, and yet our romantic impulses force us to bend said language into ludicrous shapes to try and emulate Yeats, despite the chances of eventual ridicule hovering at around 95 per cent.

About 10 years ago I developed the habit of writing songs for women I liked, but threw in the towel shortly after coming up with the following highly ineffective couplet while suffering from a bad cold: "Tonight I'd like to date ya/So I'm swigging echinacea". You see, poetry only "works" if the recipient likes you already. It coerces no one. It's surplus to requirements.

So next time you stumble across a verse by Tennyson – "Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves a shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me" – and think, "ooh, I could do that," and then find yourself sitting at your laptop thinking "Bloody hell, this is hard, I can't think of anything to rhyme with boobs," don't say I didn't warn you.