4x4th Estate: Alternative Love Poems

Disclaimer: This article contains mention of an expletive that may cause offence. 

LarkinLove Again by Philip Larkin

Ahh, ‘Love Again’, you think, settling into your chair with a pleasant sigh, supping on lukewarm tea.

Larkin hastily turns that optimistic sentiment entirely on its head, spitting out a poem that vibrates with a perfect vulgarity, twisted into tight rhymes and rounded consonants that unsettle, sicken and delight. Imagining an ex in the throes of passion with a new love, he channels all that white-hot jealousy and rage into an expletive-tripping fuse-box of a poem.

Someone else feeling her breasts and cunt,

Someone else drowned in that lash-wide stare

This is a perfect articulation of the torment, arousal and utter despair of musing on the un-musable, and a neat antidote to the champagne-soaked sentiments of this time of year.


Irreplaceable by Beyoncé

beyonceI played this to my sister upon breaking up with her boyfriend – blasting through the car and out through the windows to bemused passers-by. Beyonce injects every position of heartache and betrayal with an adrenaline shot of confidence and empowerment. There is no hankering after lost love, no laboured metaphors of togetherness, no pondering over what could have been – she immediately sends you ‘to the left’, out of the shining light of that voice, that body, that… hair.

So since I’m not your everything

How about I’ll be your nothing?

You are either with her or entirely irrelevant – an attitude so stunningly and boldly contrary to the average love song.


Mirror by Sylvia Plath 

mirrorI so desperately wanted to include this poem despite it edging beyond the confines of the brief. But I suppose it is a neat (yet heartbreaking) rebuff to notions of vanity that are particularly prevalent at this time of year (yep, it’s a stretch).

The narrator is an object, and you must guess what it is as you work through the verse. It claims impartiality ‘unmisted by love or dislike’, but seems bitter when ‘she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon’. The guessing game culminates in this staggering unrhymed couplet:

In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman

Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

Time rages on, and that face we return to at the end of each day is morphing and mutating beyond recognition, unnoticed.


 To His Lost Lover by Simon Armitage

book_of_matches_largeThis is one of my favourite poems of all time from one of my very favourite poets, and in it, the narrator marks the many ways in which he failed to love you enough to keep you.

Each comment on how he and his lover ‘never slept like buried cutlery – two spoons or forks cupped perfectly together’ and ‘never knew her favourite colour, her taste, her flavour’ demonstrates how deeply he was thinking about and wanting and noticing all those things all along, but never said so at the time. It is regret and longing and grief all bound up and it will break your heart.

Happy belated Valentine’s!



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