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A Poetry Prescription For Your Valentine's Day Predicaments

Looking for a poetry recommendation to help get you through Valentine's Day? Sarah Kay, one of the people behind the Paris Review column Poetry Rx, is here to help. (Maira Gallardo/Unsplash)
Looking for a poetry recommendation to help get you through Valentine's Day? Sarah Kay, one of the people behind the Paris Review column Poetry Rx, is here to help. (Maira Gallardo/Unsplash)
This article is more than 4 years old.

If you're looking for poetry recommendations this Valentine's Day, Sarah Kay has you covered. She joins Here & Now's Robin Young for a special radio edition of the Poetry Rx column, where readers write in with a specific emotion and resident poets prescribe the perfect poems to match.

Kay (@kaysarahsera) is a spoken word poet and the author of four books of poetry: "No Matter the Wreckage," "B," "The Type" and "All Our Wild Wonder." Poetry Rx is published weekly in the award-winning literary quarterly, The Paris Review.

Interview Highlights

On someone who wrote in requesting help with feeling vulnerable in a relationship for the first time, and received a poem with a simple message: go for it

"Well, for this particular person, I said, I'm delighted to share with you a poem by one of my favorite poets, Natalie Diaz, and the poem is called 'When the Beloved Asks, 'What Would You Do If You Woke Up and I Was a Shark?' — that's the name of the poem. And there's this one section in particular that I love, in which she says:

I wouldn't fight, not kick,
flail, not carry on like one driven mad by the black neoprene wetsuit

of death, not like sad-mouthed, despair-eyed albacore nor blubbery
pinnipeds, wouldn’t rage the city’s flickering streets of Ampullae
of Lorenzini, nor slug my ferocious, streamlined lover's titanium

white nose, that bull's-eye of cartilage, no, I wouldn't prolong it.
Instead, I'd place my head onto that dark altar of jaws, prostrated
pilgrim at Melville's glittering gates, climb into that mysterious

window starred with teeth—the one lit room in the charnel house.

On another person writing in with feelings of loneliness, and asking for a "poetry life preserver"

"So for this person — a lot of people write in about loneliness — but I really liked that this person specifically requested a poem that acknowledges sadness without being consumed by it. And so I recommended a poem by José Olivarez from his new book, 'Citizen Illegal,' and the poem is called, 'Not-Love Is A Season.' And the poem starts:

not-love is a season.
I drank fire. a dozen blankets

couldn't keep me from shivering.
winter is an unavoidable fact.

unless you're from Cali &
i don't trust people who don't know

the freeze of loneliness. the dead
branches abandoned

by the birds still chasing summer.
my homies is all telling me

i'll meet someone else. like I want
to meet someone else. my wound deep.

but mine. already time working to ease
my grip on my hurt. i know misery


"There's a lot of different metaphors you could use for heartbreak: a hole you're trying to climb out of. But a hole is difficult to escape, and can seem impossible. But a season must arrive, and José says, 'Winter is an unavoidable fact,' and it also must pass. That is what seasons do. And so if your loneliness is here, it also means it will not be here forever, and it's OK to acknowledge it and even maybe to relish in it a little bit. But I'm hoping that this person allows room for thawing."

On a poem prescribed to a person who tried to rekindle a relationship by inviting an old flame on a trip, only to have it fizzle

"Everyone signs their letter with a pen name, anonymously, and so this person signed their letter, 'Sincerely, Wrong Girl.' And I really wanted her to know that I didn't think she was the 'wrong girl.' It was that she's the right girl, but with the wrong guy. And I said actually more specifically, 'You're the right girl who has fallen for the age-old trick of falling for the fantasy guy, but winding up with the actual guy who, as it turns out, you might not actually like that much.' And so there's this poem by Muriel Rukeyser called 'Waiting for Icarus,' and the whole poem is amazing, but the beginning of the poem is:

He said he would be back and we'd drink wine together
He said that everything would be better than before
He said we were on the edge of a new relation
He said he would never again cringe before his father
He said that he was going to invent full-time
He said he loved me that going into me
He said was going into the world and the sky
He said all the buckles were very firm
He said the wax was the best wax

"I love this poem, because first of all, it suggests that women have been falling for the myth of men in lieu of the real man in front of us since, well, mythical times. And it's easy to get swept up in the stories we tell ourselves about people, especially when they're far away. The end of the poem goes:

I remember the girls laughing
I remember they said he only wanted to get away from me
I remember mother saying: Inventors are like poets,
a trashy lot
I remember she told me those who try out inventions are worse
I remember she added: Women who love such are the
Worst of all
I have been waiting all day, or perhaps longer.
I would have liked to try those wings myself.
It would have been better than this.

Need your own poem? You can submit a letter to Poetry Rx's resident poets Sarah Kay, Claire Schwartz and Kaveh Akbar by emailing

Poems From 'No Matter The Wreckage'

by Sarah Kay

Here And Now

Here and now, I have only these hands,
this mouth, this skin as wide as a shoreline,
this beehive between my ears, this buzz, this buzz. You are the best thing I never planned.
This is the widest I can stretch my arms without dropping things. This is the first time I don’t care if I drop things. This is what dropping
things feels like. This is what happens when
the flowers wake up one morning and decide to smell human: it confuses us, makes us
reach backwards into places that are sharp,
feel around for things we’ve dropped. I have forgotten what I was looking for. It doesn't
seem important. You brought me flowers.
You made the bed. This is the widest I can
stretch my arms. This is all I have right now.

The Toothbrush To The Bicycle Tire

They told me that I was meant for the cleaner life;
that you would drag me through the mud.

They said that you would tread all over me,
that they could see right through you,

that you were full of hot air;
that I would always be chasing,

always watching you disappear after sleeker models—
that it would be a vicious cycle.

But I know better. I know about your rough edges
and I have seen your perfect curves.

I will fit into whatever spaces you let me.
If loving you means getting dirty, bring on the grime.

I will leave this porcelain home behind. I’m used to
twice-a-day relationships, but with you I’ll take all the time.

And I know we live in different worlds, and we’re always really busy,
but in my dreams you spin around me so fast, I always wake up dizzy.

So maybe one day you’ll grow tired of the road
and roll on back to me.

And when I blink my eyes into morning,
your smile will be the only one I see.

Savannah Maher produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Peter O'Dowd. Jack Mitchell adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on February 14, 2019.


Robin Young Co-Host, Here & Now
Robin Young brings more than 25 years of broadcast experience to her role as host of Here & Now.



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