Three Yaddo Poets Enlarge the Meaning of Love

June 19, 2020

A moment of stillness, a zing of recognition, a window opened on the soul— these are among the rewards of poetry, each of them sorely needed right now. Join us here for an occasional Yaddo series, curated by Soren Stockman.

Carolyn Beard Whitlow Photo: Brianna Glenn

“Local Call” by Carolyn Beard Whitlow


To be known is to be loved. Whitlow’s speaker asserts that her worth is superior to her treatment at the hands of an unknown, would-be beloved, noting “You handle me like I’m a local call. / I’m expensive. Long distance.” Taken for granted, Whitlow discerns the exhaustion of insisting upon one’s value to those who “laugh in another language.” Her strength and understanding of self grows in response to this external undermining: “‘Don’t want nobody / don’t want me.’” Though she cannot make another person understand her value, “having never been loved, knowing I don’t know how,” she has found the language by which to assert it herself. — SS

CM Burroughs Photo: Jordan Boyer

“Gwendolyn as Lover” by CM Burroughs

Source: Poetry (June 2017)

Burroughs highlights the sensual humanity of those long entrenched in conflicts of justice. Here, she permits legendary poet and heroic elder Gwendolyn Brooks to be made vulnerable by lust and yearning for the body. When Burroughs asks after “his hands in your hair, your nerves rising kinetically / to the cupola of his palms?,” she salutes the complex simultaneity Brooks endured as a freedom fighter in need of love. In fact, the two personas demand each other, as when Burroughs imagines Brooks “teasing tut-tut in arousing / admonition at what he was after, knowing, as you prepared / to keep him, that you were young yet and gleaning, gleaning.” — SS

Shayla Lawson Photo: Kareem Black

“Strawberry Swing” by Shayla Lawson

Source: Witness, VOL. XXIX NO. 3 (WINTER 2016)

Lawson’s poem opens, “I listen to the guns. They clear / the ground of all its color / & I flirt,” defining an ocean of violence in which her speaker grasps for love like air.  Too often made to choose survival over life, she continues, “For everyone of us // I see die, I take you in . . . I let you go just to keep breathing.” The speaker here experiences intimacy as a spell cast against, and indivisible from, an oncoming brutality. Her fear of becoming “the chalk-drawn street . . . cold in the blood” returns her to “the strawberries // we trowel between our mouths.” At once both in the wake and face of harm, Lawson declares her saving grace to the world as much as to her lover: “I need you / to know: I have // loved; I have love.” — SS