These poets know how to send the cheesy, cloying side of love to hell.
If you’re like me, I’m sure you cringe at the thought of anything that has to do with the cheesy, bubbly side of love and romance. The excess of flowers, the big hearts, the chocolates, and gigantic Teddy Bears that take over your favorite stores on Valentine’s Day becomes too much, and even worse, the apparent sweetness of some couples is so overwhelming it’s cloying. You might think Valentine’s Day is the only time where this happens, but oh, no, think of Christmas, New Year's, the Spring, birthdays, summer flings, everything seems to be related to love! Well, leaving my rant aside, all of these things can end up turning love into a feeling that sometimes you’d rather avoid. But where can you escape from this year-round hype about romance? Well, fortunately poetry, a literary genre we tend to associate with love, also offers us anti-love poems to satisfy your inner hater. Going from the typical heartbreak poems to gracefully telling an ex to f**k off, these poems show love also has its ugly side. However, you can approach that ugliness in many different ways. Either from a sad point of view or a with fun and ironic attitude, all of these poems are creative and masterful ways of sending cheesy love to hell.
“You left me –Sire– two Legacies –” - Emily Dickinson
You left me – Sire – two Legacies –
A Legacy of Love
A Heavenly Father would suffice
Had He the offer of –
You left me Boundaries of Pain –
Capacious as the Sea –
Between Eternity and Time –
Your Consciousness – and me –
Let’s begin with one of the most obvious forms of anti-love: heartbreak. And there’s no better way to show that than with the brief and emotional verses of Emily Dickinson. In this short poem there is no context or story, and yet you can perceive the emptiness that comes with a broken heart and the extent of the emotions unleashed by it. However, the tone of the poem is also worth highlighting, because despite the pain, the pauses, and the melancholy language, the poem conveys the feeling that there’s also dignity in telling the other person what they did.
“Time does not bring relief; you all have lied” - Edna St. Vincent Millay
Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year’s bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go,—so with his memory they brim.
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, “There is no memory of him here!”
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.
What I love about this poem is the fact that it is quite straightforward about something that happens to everyone: the inability to forget someone. Many people say that time heals all wounds, but sometimes the memories of someone or the meaning of being with them was too much, so it isn’t just a matter of time, but rather learning how to approach that past and let it go. When this happens, the most tempting path to take is to run away, find a refuge in things that don’t remind them of that person, but is that escapism a real cure?
“The Primer” - Christina Davis
She said, I love you.
He said, Nothing.
(As if there were just one
of each word and the one
who used it, used it up).
In the history of language
the first obscenity was silence.
Sometimes remaining silent is worse than saying no, because there can be a whole world of possibilities hiding in that silence. The scenario depicted in Christina Davis’ poem shows what is, perhaps, one of the greatest fears that come to mind when you’re thinking of telling your crush how you feel about them. Silence can also be another way of rejection, perhaps even more hurtful than a negative answer.
“You jerk you didn’t call me up” - Bernadette Mayer
You jerk you didn't call me up
I haven't seen you in so long
You probably have a fucking tan
& besides that instead of making love tonight
You're drinking your parents to the airport
I'm through with you bourgeois boys
All you ever do is go back to ancestral comforts
Only money can get—even Catullus was rich but
Nowadays you guys settle for a couch
By a soporific color cable t.v. set
Instead of any arc of love, no wonder
The G.I. Joe team blows it every other time
Wake up! It's the middle of the night
You can either make love or die at the hands of the Cobra Commander
This poem is anti-love in all its splendor. Curiously, this isn’t about being heartbroken or resenting the memories of someone, but rather a mixture of a scolding and a complaint to someone who has left and, worse, who settles for anything, as simple as it might be. In a sense, this is the kind of text you could dedicate to that jerk of an ex you want to say a thing or two to.
“One Art” - Elizabeth Bishop
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
The first stanzas of the poem don’t make you think of this as an anti-love text, but rather a whole lesson for life. Now that I think about it, the art of losing can sure teach you to let go of unnecessary things or even meaningful situations and relationships. Due to the easiness with which things come and go, it’s better to adopt a self-conciliating stance and accept their absence. The tone of this poem is rather one of growing irony, but also a slight sense of hope despite the pain that we can adopt when you’ve decided to say goodbye to love.
“Pleasure” - Katie Peterson
I remembered what it was like,
knowing what you want to eat and then making it,
forgetting about the ending in the middle,
looking at the ocean for
a long time without restlessness,
or with restlessness not inhabiting the joints,
sitting Indian style on a porch
overlooking that water, smooth like good cake frosting.
And then I experienced it, falling so deeply
into the storyline, I laughed as soon as my character entered
the picture, humming the theme music even when I’d told myself
I wanted to be quiet by some freezing river
and never talk to anyone again.
And I thought, now is the right time to cut up your shirt.
Now, let’s close this selection of anti-love poems with one that shows the true freedom you find when you send love to hell. The memories won’t fade, but at least you’ll be able to laugh at yourself. You’ll get to know yourself even better and realize what you truly want in a relationship. It is in that moment of true letting go that you realize you can move on from the heartbreak, and anti-love actually becomes bliss.
Literature is not only one of the best ways to escape to another world but also a means to cope with what we live. Let these poets accompany you in your anti-love mood and become the fix you need when everything around you is so sweet it’s sickening.
Here are other poems you should check out:
Images by Derrick Freske