India Uncut

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

James Fenton on love poetry

In a superb essay about love poetry, James Fenton writes:

A sort of discretion on the part of our broad-minded grammar allows us to use the words "I" and "you" without specifying the gender of either the first or the second person. This means that in many cases a love poem addressed by a man to a woman may serve as well to express the feelings of a woman for a man, or a man for a man, or a woman for a woman. Anyway, we have imaginations and we have the power of sympathy, so it seems that any of these situations can excite our interest. "Don't ask, don't tell" is the motto under which much love poetry is written...
Indeed, what difference does the sexual orientation of the poet make? Some of my favourite poems of love are by Vikram Seth, and until this millenium, I wasn't even aware that he was bisexual. Is that knowledge relevant to appreciating his poems? I don't think so, because at the end of it, whether we are attracted to men or women or both, it all boils down to the same bloody-minded things: love, longing, desire, despair, regret.

Anyway, poetry is something that should be read more than it is spoken of, so let me direct you to a wonderful poem by Fenton, "In Paris with You." What a wonderful poem to read on a Saturday afternoon!

Also, do read Fenton on "on how to use rhyme to make a poem more memorable," and here's a terrific interview by Sheela Reddy of Vikram Seth. (Free registration required.)
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