Three Poems by Jennifer Clarvoe


   Introduction by Daniel Bosch

Jennifer Clarvoe’s little black book Counter-Amores(University of Chicago Press, 2011) closes with a suite of poems each of which is a reversal of one of Ovid’s Amores — his frank and delightful guides to beds and breakfasts along the Tiber. Clarvoe’s poems reincarnate the sense that Robert Frost made when he wrote that life demands:

…not its own love back in copy-speech,

but counter-love, original response.

(“The Most of It”)

In the three apposite opposites below (with links to recent translations from the Latin by A.S. Kline), you will discover — as Clarvoe has — how much fun it is to deliberately do the opposite of what someone in Rome has done.


Counter-Amores II.16: News Flash

My love’s fire is absent.

I’m at Irvine, here in Orange County:
Which spreads out, mall after contagious mall,
Under the winter rains. The exuberant pine tree
Flaunts its pony-tail-like needle-fall.

Mud torrents down the drive at Malibu,
Down the hillside roller-coaster fire
Swept bare last month. “It’s worth it for the view,”
He says, rubbing his wispy chin. Desire

Hurtles over the last retaining wall, and over the coastal
Highway, where the wild surf, too, goes postal.

  Amores II.XVI as translated by A.S. Kline

Counter-Amores I.5: Happy Hour

“Happy hour” in harsh winter.
You hunch, tense, at your desk.

Lights off in the outer office, the terminal glow
parodies the blue light of a diner

reduced to a blue plate, like the leftover
dish still in the sink at 2 a.m.

I don’t care if it’s light or dark,
I can’t wait.

I want to start saying your name; I’m buttoned up,
pinned up, wound up, just to make you

work hard at the work at hand, and not
fast enough to stop me, either,

God, from grabbing at our clothes; too much is hidden.
If I fight to give it away, I fight

with all my heart.
Defeat is hard.  I will betray you.

And if you were at last to lie—human, flawed—
next to me on this pillow,

shoulders and arms relaxed in sleep, exposed,
helpless, even—how could I endanger

that easy breathing, how send these light fingers
wandering down your belly under the covers?

Who’s perfect?
Merciless, I’d attack in an instant,

why dream I’d let you rest?  Wake up!  This night
is more than ours—I swear this night is mine.

Amores II.XVI as translated by A.S. Kline

Counter-Amores III.14: I’m Bad

I’m Bad

I’m bad—but I behave—I contradict
myself—I never do what I depict.
I don’t have morals, but I still live chaste;
I write the worst so it won’t go to waste.
I don’t lie down—but still a girl can lie
on paper—to remember someone by.
In sanity—a clean, well-lighted place—
I write things you won’t read upon my face.
Brides and virgins need their privacy;
invite a crowd—there’s nothing here to see.
(Honestly? This name was never mine—
if it becomes notorious—that’s fine
by me—how many times has he had sex
since he became my once and future ex?
Let him assume I never sleep at night—
not that what keeps me up’s this need to write.)

Nuns fret not at their convents’ narrow rooms.
I’m not ashamed to fret. The wide world looms
so I lie down, under the fretful covers
and fret with all my dearly faulty lovers
who wander fully clothed at some remove
of minds and miles—they don’t guess that they love,
or the proximity of lip & tongue
the infinite ways that we’ve devised to come,
the things I say he’s never failed to say,
the mess we made of the sheets the other day.
Am I then so dishonest when I lie
all unashamed, because what haven’t I
done with you—all that we haven’t done
exposed here to the full light of the sun.

I lie with you, I lie for all to see,
enjoy such lying as allowed to me.

Material proof—what kind of evidence
(DNA, denial)—that’s the president’s
problem. If I say you’re here with me
then here you are. And here. And heresy
the claim a heart might need more proof than this
or body confirmation of heart’s bliss.
It’s life when I protest what we have done
and through real veins I feel the hot blood run.
Then you, whom I can’t have, I love as real
as life and twice as natural, I feel
you in my bones. I’ve nothing to declare
except my self—I’m duty free—I swear
I’m ninety-nine and forty-four percent pure
guilt—I only wish my guilt secure.
Could we do something that I couldn’t say
or trust to paper? Dear, I’d seize the day.

Amores III.XIV as translated by A.S. Kline

About the Authors:

Jennifer Clarvoe is an American poet. She teaches at Kenyon College.

Daniel Bosch is a senior editor at Berfrois.