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For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
‘The Parlement of Foules’, Geoffrey Chaucer, 1382, the first recorded association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love.
Lovelorn, partnered, married, happily single: this week, it’s hard to avoid the tacky manifestations that now accompany the annual celebration – or commiseration – that is Valentine’s Day.
History distorts, and the saint who gives his name to the celebration of love was anything but conventional. Performing weddings for soldiers of the Roman Empire who were forbidden to marry and ministering to Christians whose new religion the emperors feared, Valentine was executed. According to legend, he wrote to the daughter of his jailer Asterius on the day of his death, ending his greeting ‘from your Valentine’.
OCA creative writing student Mark Charlton is taking his lead from the saint, bounding unconventionally onto cupid’s bandwagon on Thursday to read from his recently-published book ‘Counting Steps’ at Pages Bookshop in Hackney, London. ‘A new take on Valentine’s Day’, he calls it.
If you happen to live in Hackney and are not going to be treated to or pay for an over-priced restaurant meal for two, clutching as you leave a rose-that-is-sick from being forced in a hot-house, you may prefer to go and listen instead to what climbing and nature writer Will Perrin says is ‘…not the empty acquisition of experience for ego-enhancement and public show, but a loving delight in the thing itself.’ Love of a different kind, and with the reading beginning at 7pm, you could manage a late-ish dinner as well.
Happily for some, poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and other love poets are also moving away from saccharine temptation on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday, examining poetic responses to love’s mysteries by looking intently at poems that explore the highs and lows of a long-term partnership. It’s the fourth programme in a series of five that looks at different stages in the development of a relationship.
OCA creative writing students, immersed in poetry as many of you are, will no doubt be able to try your hand at anticipating which poems will feature before the programme is broadcast.
Inspired by Mark’s left-field approach to what may now be the tackiest annual festival in the Western world, I risked putting ‘Valentine’s Day Reading’ into Google. The results are less than heart-warming. On skiddle.com, dinners and dirty weekends away in the Berkshire city. I should have been sharp enough to spot the homonym and stop before I clicked on the link.
More promising is GodWeb, which helpfully gathers together well-known and more obscure poetry and prose about love, and where I was pleased to find a translation of one of Pablo Neruda’s 100 Love Sonnets:
‘I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz, or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off. I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul.’
Which lines would you love to find there?
Reading Rockets, a site that ‘teaching kids to read and helping those who struggle’, has spotted that Valentine’s Day presents young writers with a chance to show their families and friends how much they love them by writing to them
It can’t be all bad: just one more reason for reading and writing, whatever your age, and whether you’re in love or not.