BEYOND RED ROSES; LOVE POEMS TO HELP WOO THAT SPECIAL SOMEONE

TODAY’S THE DAY.

And for whatever reason, you’ve done nothing about it.

Perhaps you disdain the Valentine frippery of pink and red, that manipulated outpouring of emotion and the pressure to perform. Perhaps you’ve procrastinated, assuming that when the moment arrived, expressions of love would simply fall from your lips. Or maybe you’ve suddenly found your romantic side say, in the past five minutes or so.

You’ve hemmed and hawed, and now you realize you’re at a loss for words.

Before you make a hasty Hallmark decision, consider this: Since the beginning of love, poets have been translating longing and passion into words. Their work has shaped our ideas of romance. Who better to turn to?

To spur your imagination, TimeOut has asked some East Bay connoisseurs of literature to share their favorites. Use them wisely and remember: Always give credit where credit is due. Love is no excuse for plagiarism.

June Jordan, poet

While a few words from William Shakespeare seem almost pedestrian in matters of the heart, the Bard still manages to emerge fresh, relevant and sometimes irreverent after more than 300 years.

That’s why June Jordan favors Sonnet 141. A renowned poet, playwright, essayist and political activist, the UC-Berkeley professor is a recipient of a Rockefeller Foundation grant and many other awards and fellowships.

While Jordan has her own formidable repertoire from which to choose, she brings up Shakespeare’s little ditty because, she says simply, “It’s hilarious, and sometimes, love is hilarious.”

In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,

For they in thee a thousand errors note;

But ’tis my heart that loves what they despise,

Who in despite of view is pleased to dote.

Nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s tune delighted,

Nor tender feeling to base touches prone,

Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited

To any sensual feast with thee alone.

But my five wits nor my five senses can

Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee,

Who leaves unswayed the likeness of a man,

Thy proud heart’s slave and vassal wretch to be.

Only my plague thus far I count my gain,

That she that makes me sin awards me pain.

– From the sonnets of William Shakespeare, available in various editions, including “The Complete Works of Shakespeare” edited by David Bevington (Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1997, $66 hardcover).

The Rev. Ann Keeler Evans, wedding officiant

Ann Keeler Evans is an ecumenical minister who officiates at weddings and commitment ceremonies around the Bay Area. Her business, A Rite to Remember, is based in Oakland. To help clients plan, she posts unusual and popular readings on her Web site, www.ritetoremember.com.

“Everybody does the 14th Sonnet, the “Apache Wedding Blessing,” the reading from the Corinthians,” she says. “They’re really pretty boring It’s sort of like listening to the “Wedding March” one more time or Pachelbel’s Canon one more time.”

What’s fun: when someone opts for the road less traveled, Evans says, such as the work of feminist poet Marge Piercy, a quote from novelist George Elliot or “Married Love” by Chinese poet Kuan Tao-Sheng.

“There’s just some great stuff that’s not the norm,” Evans says. “I call them my least heinous wedding poems.’ ”

Open, love, open.

I tell you we are able

I tell you we are able

now and then gently

with hands and feet

cold even as fish

to curl into a tangle

and grow a single hide,

slowly to unknit all other skin

and rest in flesh

and rest in flesh entire.

Come all the way in, love,

it is a river

with a strong current

but its waters

will not drown you.

Let go.

Do not hold out

your head.

The current knows the bottom

better than your feet can.

You will find

that in this river

we can breathe

we can breathe

and under water see

small gardens and bright fish

too tender

too tender

for the air.

“Unclench Yourself” from “Circles on the Water: Selected Poems of Marge Piercy” (Alfred A Knopf, 1994, $18).

Robert Hass, poet

After years of writing a Wall Street Journal column on poetry, Robert Hass admits that fresh recommendations for Valentine’s Day have become harder to come by.

But Hass, former U.S. poet laureate and a UC-Berkeley professor of English, rallied with suggestions for two scholarly books examining the larger themes underlying romance.

One is “Eros the Bittersweet,” a book by poet Anne Carson about the work of Sappho.

“Anne Carson is a sort of Canadian avant-garde poet and classical scholar who wrote this terrific essay on Eros,” Hass said. “And another book in similar mode is Lover’s Discourse’ by Roland Barthes. There you get two very readable, sort of high-end intellectual books about eroticism and longing and love.”

“Eros is an issue of boundaries. He exists because certain boundaries do. In the interval between reach and grasp, between glance and counterglance, between I love you’ and I love you too,’ the absent presence of desire comes alive. But the boundaries of time and glance and I love you are only aftershocks of the main, inevitable boundary that creates Eros: the boundary of flesh and self between you and me and it is only, suddenly, at the moment when I would dissolve that boundary, I realize I never can.”

From “Eros the Bittersweet” by Anne Carson (Dalkey Archive Press, 1998, $12.95).

Charles Ellik, slam poet

Sex: definitely. Cruel breakups: as long as you can be funny about them. But hearts and flowers? Not on the Bay Area poetry slam circuit, a war of words that pits artists against one another.

Charles Ellik, host of the Berkeley Poetry Slam, agreed to humor our request anyway.

“I’m going to recommend something that’s not the typical, sort of wishy-washy, smarmy marmy kind of Valentine’s Day love poem collection ,” he said. “I’m going to recommend one of the poets who was most influential on my poetic career and my opinions of love and romance: Charles Bukowski. And the book that I’m going to recommend is the aptly titled Love Is a Dog From Hell.’ ”

When the women phone I say

o yes I write. I’m a writer

only I’m not writing right now.

I feel foolish phoning you,

they say, and I was surprised

to find you listed in the phone book.

I have reasons, I say,

by the way why don’t you come over

for a beer?

You wouldn’t mind?

And they arrive

handsome women

good of mind and body

Often there isn’t sex

but I’m used to that

Yet it’s good

very good just to look at them

and some rare times

I have unexpected good luck

otherwise

Excerpted from “how come you’re not unlisted?” in “Love Is a Dog from Hell: Poems, 1974-1977” by Charles Bukowski (Black Sparrow Press, 1979, $15).

Susan Krinard, novelist

Werewolf passions, vampire romances and supernatural love in California settings define the fantasy romance novels of Susan Krinard.

A near lifelong Contra Costa County resident, the author is perhaps best known for her dark, hirsute heroes like in “Prince of Wolves” or her latest, “Touch of the Wolf.” Just a year ago, she was searching for quotes for her novel and reacquainted herself with the works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

While the most oft-quoted phrase from Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” involves counting the ways of love, Krinard is drawn to No. 14.

“It’s not judging on externals and that kind of thing,” she said.

If thou must love me, let it be for nought

Except for love’s sake only. Do not say

I love her for her smile her look her way

Of speaking gently, for a trick of thought

That falls in well with mine, and certes brought

A sense of pleasant ease on such a day’

For these things in themselves, Beloved, may

Be changed, or change for thee, and love, so wrought,

May be unwrought so. Neither love me for

Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry,

A creature might forget to weep, who bore

Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!

But love me for love’s sake, that evermore

Thou mayst love on, through love’s eternity.

– From the sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, available in various editions, including “Sonnets from the Portuguese and Other Love Poems” (Random House Value Publishing, 1997, $4.99).

Donna Davidson, bookseller

The nonsense rhymes of “Jabberwocky” might not be the typical sweet nothings whispered in one’s ear, but the poem is a dear favorite of Donna Davidson, owner of Bay Books in Concord and San Ramon.

An English major and confessed “poetry freak,” she read and wrote her own with a passion. So, when a boy named Carl recited the words to “Jabberwocky” on their first date at a fraternity beach party, Davidson says, “I knew he was meant for me.”

Not only did he woo her with this poem, that night he wrote her a poem. She still has her now-husband’s poem, which begins, “I wonder how the sands feel when the seas caress their grains ”

Then again, the heart had already been won:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves

And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”

And, as in uffish thought he stood,

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”

He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogroves

And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Jabberwocky” from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass,” available in various editions, including “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” (New American Library, 1995, $3.95).

TimeOut’s pick

We can’t pass up the opportunity to recommend Pablo Neruda, the Nobel laureate from Chile. Neruda wrote a collection of love sonnets during the 1950s as a gift to his wife. His “wooden sonnets,” as he calls them, build from the ordinary trappings of his South American landscape.

I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.

Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.

Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day

I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.

I hunger for your sleek laugh,

your hands the color of a savage harvest,

hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,

I want to eat your skin like a whole almond

I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,

the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,

I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,

and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,

hunting for you, for your hot heart,

like a puma in the barren of Quitrate.

Sonnet XI from “100 Love Sonnets/Cien Sonetos De Amor” by Pablo Neruda, translated by Stephen Tapscott (University of Texas Press, 1986, $12.95).

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