Timely reminder that love is reckless, dangerous and takes no hostages

By James Kidd AS VALENTINE S Day looms, canny lovers may care to invest in a book of love poetry to leave on their partner s pillow – rather than wasting cash on less meaningful gif

Timely reminder that love is reckless, dangerous and takes no hostages

By James Kidd

AS VALENTINE'S Day looms, canny lovers may care to invest in a book of love poetry to leave on their partner's pillow - rather than wasting cash on less meaningful gifts such as expensive underwear or wilting flowers.

The publication today of Be Mine, An Anthology For Lovers, Weddings And Ever After has undoubtedly been timed to coincide with the annual celebration of love.

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But, as the title suggests, it can also be used to select readings for civil ceremonies, marriages and anniversaries.

To help readers find appropriate passages, novelist Sally Emerson has divided her eclectic selection under headings, including First Loves, Valentines and Intimacy. There are hefty sections on Wedding Day, Sharing A Life and Lasting Love with entries as diverse as writing itself - ranging from verse to prose - to popular songs, from the tender to the comic, the cynical to the passionate.

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They include well-known works by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Shakespeare and Keats, and oddities from Darwin to Hollywood scriptwriter Nora Ephron, feminist Gloria Steinem and an article from the Daily Mail.

As Emerson says in her introduction, there are two loves: "the passionate, desperate, wild state of being in love" that is "reckless and dangerous and takes no hostages", and the stable, complex love of "becoming so close your roots entwine together".

As Sophocles said: "One word frees us from all the weight and pain of life. That word is love."

Inevitably, Emerson's selection crosses over with that of Golders Green poet Dannie Abse in his compilation Homage To Eros: 100 Great Poems Of Love And Lust - not least his own work Epithalamion, a favourite choice for weddings, including his son's ceremony.

The father-of-three, of Hodford Road, is delighted his work enables others to articulate their emotions during important rites of passage.

"It's nice to be of use," he says modestly. "Auden once said, 'Poetry makes nothing happen', but sometimes it does. Just sometimes it gets people together."

Abse, whose first volume of poetry was published almost 60 years ago, has arranged his shorter selection of love poetry in simple order of chronology - from the Bible's Song Of Solomon and Catullus' To Lesbia, to more recent works by Carol Ann Duffy and Andrew Motion.

The 83-year-old warns in his introduction that most love poetry is written by men, with some penned "more in lust than in love... hoping that their finely chosen sweet words will edge the adored one into their beds".

Abse admires love poems of poignant, direct simplicity and economy of language. But in later life, he has come to enjoy more flowery verse. He accepts the collection is "highly personal" rather than representative

or academic.

"These poems celebrate sexual energy, the gaiety, the humour and seriousness of Eros," he says. "Many of the poems, by men in particular, are lusty to put it mildly.

"There are wedding songs and funeral songs, poems of celebration and requiems.

"Some are bleak, some are about jealousy or a lack of love or love rejected, some are confessional, some ironical.

"They are poems I have known for a long time and I was thrilled to revisit them. As with all poetry, you go into it sober and come out a little drunk.

"I hope this book will be given for St Valentine's Day. People should read it in bed."

The Welsh writer and doctor, who has published 12 volumes of poetry, two plays and two novels in addition to holding down a career as a chest specialist, is completing a journal following the loss of his wife Joan in a car crash in 2005.

It is due to be published in June, two years after the accident.

"When I crawled out of that car and ended up in hospital some people wanted me to have counselling. I declined and decided to write a journal instead," says Abse.

"It's more than a journal - it's a diary, an anthology. I had doubts about it being published because it's a very, very vulnerable book.

"But I suddenly found myself rewriting a page or two and asked myself, 'Why am I doing that unless I am open to publishing it?'"

Abse hopes it will stand as a tribute to his wife and be useful to others trying to make sense of grief.

"It has certainly helped me. I have been a writer all my adult life - it's difficult not to address something like this through writing. It has given me a structure to my day.

"I found it rather different to other writing. When writing a novel it's great to live in an alternative world - and the best novelists don't reveal themselves when they write. But this is exposing and raw."

Abse, who gives the Royal Society's TS Eliot memorial lecture in May, has been handed many awards over the years and was Booker Prize long-listed for his latest novel three years ago.

"I don't write for awards. One writes because one needs to do it."

Be Mine, An Anthology For Lovers, Weddings And Ever After is published today by Little Brown, price £12.99.

Homage To Eros: 100 Great Poems Of Love And Lust is published by Robson, £7.99.

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