Deep in lockdown what I crave is contact, skin-to-skin intimacy, the friction of a lover’s voice in my ear. But let’s turn it inside out, let it include all love in all directions, and even the vacuum of its loss.

So this was Poet in the City with Nikita Gill (as presiding Goddess) holding an Anti-Valentine’s Poetry Party where we as friends, patrons and enthusiasts could bring any poem to celebrate love and its inversions.

Nikita started us off with The Women I Know:

I call them: my sisters, goddesses and the moon.
I tell them they glow more radiant
With each passing spring and monsoon.

Salena Godden’s Soup, a love song to diversity, managed to be angry and warm and funny all at the same time, and gave in its bowl of flavours a taste of the delicious poems each person would bring.

Reading through them now, what strikes me is how rich we are as a community of poetry lovers. Most I had never read or heard, every one is a new path to take or a secret vault. This is what brings me to Poet in the City events: the chance to be nudged out of my cloistered preferences into something unexpected.

Menna Elfyn’s love poem to poetry, to her hero R S Thomas, and to the Welsh language took us deeper in; while Mary Oliver brought us back out, up to mystic, transcendent nature worship.

Not all was sweet and nice. John Webster’s Duchess of Malfi and Dorothy Parker’s Symptom Recital brought us the bitterness of barren hearts and jaded lassitude, but at the turn of the last line, hope: “I’m due to fall in love again.”

I love the chance to share favourites - how Kama the God of Love (of Kama Sutra fame) lost his life to Shiva’s fiery anger as he tried to shoot the deity with his mango-blossom darts. It’s Kama’s wife Rati’s lament I find so beautiful:

As she rose up she said “Lord of my Life,
Are you alive?” and saw the man-like shape
Impressed on earth in front of her, just ash
Remaining from the fire of Shiva’s wrath.

“Why have you abandoned me whose life
Depends on you? You broke love instantly
And fled like water from a dam-burst tank:
You left a lotus stranded in the mud.
Kalidasa: Kumara-sambhava (Birth of the Prince)
(author’s translation)

From Sanskrit of the ancient past to the poets of Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest - What I Would Tell You by Lang Leav seems coeval with this and these following pieces, so intricate is its ambivalence. It could easily match Lord Byron or John Donne in their narcissistic or audacious break-up poems.

For love turned to hate for the other, and then putrefying into hate for oneself, read Havisham by Carol Ann Duffy. Perhaps Miss Havisham should have taken Wendy Cope’s advice:

1. Don't see him. Don't phone or write a letter.
2. The easy way: get to know him better.

Or following Yeats she could have slipped into senescent meditation:

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

How more weird is the poem’s world of love than prose can say? And it’s practical too: where else would you get Rachel Long’s advice on bra padding with white sliced bread?

the boys have clocked the difference between
a tissue and a tit, a sock and a tit, but not quite yet
a tit and a slice of bread.

By the end of lockdown we all have Zoom-fatigue, but looking at this list and remembering the thrill of discovering each poem in each person's voice, I have to say it works so well as a medium for a poetry party. I’d happily do it again.

Here is the list - dip into it and enjoy!

The Women I Know – Nikita Gill
Soup – Salena Godden
Handkerchief Kiss (Cusan Hances) by Menna Elfyn
When I Am Among the Trees – Mary Oliver
Monologue from The Duchess of Malfi – John Webster
Symptom Recital – Dorothy Parker
The Expiration – John Donne
Poem: Walk – Ray Albano
Dream of a Curious Man – Charles Baudelaire
One Week in April – Charlie Mills
The Skunk – Seamus Heaney
When We Parted – Lord Byron
Rati’s Lament – Kalidasa’s Kumarasambhava
What I Would Tell You – Lang Leav
When You Are Old – WB Yeats
Wild Geese – Mary Oliver
Two Cures for Love – Wendy Cope
Havisham – Carol Ann Duffy
Love Letter Burning – Daniel Hall
Today I Saw Myself For The First Time – Rupi Kaur
Late Fragment – Raymond Carver
The Story of Broken – Poonam Lumb
In Memory of My Mother – Patrick Kavanagh
The Wife – Emily Dickinson
Wisdom in the Water – R Queen
Negative Space – Keisha Thompson
Dust if you Must – Rose Milligan
Sandwiches - Rachel Long
A Portable Paradise – Roger Robinson
My Address – Amrita Pritam